Some films have all the right ingredients: an angry old bugger, a new neighbour with instant tension, a kid who needs the grumpy support of the old bugger and a cold-hearted (ok, kind underneath…there are no actual surprises here) trawl through life’s lessons. And laughs. Oh, the joy of mean spirited, there’s no god and the universe is a bitch laughs. Yup – a bad good angry sad comic cruel beaten-down hero to make sense of existence for a sad boy and his knackered mum – St. Vincent.
Bill Murray is in full-on slob mode. Dumped on by life, he exists in a dirt bowl of a garden, a wreck of a house and a teetering pile of fag butts. He doesn’t want people to engage with him (save one accommodating Russian of the night – herself pregnant and angry). He sneaks in to see his wife, lost to senility, in a home where he slides past the invoices; her time there, financially at least, is doomed. So – angry and more angry. And for some of us, the hardest moment in the movie. Beware, oldsters!
The boy, Oliver, arrives with a crash as his mum, the terrific Melissa McCarthy as a radiology, um, person of stress and angst, takes out Vincent’s fence. She also can’t always get to pick up Oliver, who is on the wrong end of bullying at school. The boy (the convincing and odd Jaeden Martell) pitches up at the angry man’s door and asks to be babysat. Which is fair enough, and plays on Vincent’s need for money. He takes him in and repeats the childcare for pecuniary gain.
And so life’s lessons begin. As you’d expect, man and boy become good companions. There is teaching how to sort bullies with violence (it works), how to gamble on the horses (it doesn’t) and inevitable testing of trust – which Vincent fails. Old Jack here loved this stuff: fun, funny, edgily and cleverly played by Murray and Martell, it works. The old git gets to be himself, but also find a friend of value in the boy’s need to learn. And, oddly, there’s a dash of vice versa going on in there. Not a softening of Murray’s choices as Vincent, but definitely a learning…
And then the plot does its thing and Vincent has an encounter with loan sharks and needs proper help from his neighbours, lady acquaintance (Naomi Watts as Daka is terrific) and few friends. This part is nicely done and marches up to what could be a dreadfully prosaic ending with grace and new humour.
The performances are grand throughout. Murray does his comedy thing just as McCarthy doesn’t. And Watts and the lad are both surprises of quirk and caricature. You can’t help but feel the warmth coming off the cast’s interactions, spinning around the roughness that is Vincent. And the wife, caught in her own silence, is always in Vincent’s fight against the world. Lovely.
If you need sub-text, then it flows through the character moments in St Vincent. It dies a death in the final scenes, but the tone recovers for the last encounter between St Vincent and his neighbours. Murray is himself: testing, funny and adorable. And so is this film.
Go watch it if you’re nostalgic for neighbours arguing (we’re in lockdown, ok), buddy movies with wit, or laughs.