Why not just call it St. Bill and get it over with? The most lovable curmudgeon in modern movies gets a valedictory lap (and, you suspect, another Oscar campaign) in Theodore Melfi’s crowd-pleasing yet dangerously sentimental wacky-neighbor dramedy. The film comes to gruff life whenever its star growls out a terse one-liner through his character’s alcoholic haze: Vincent (Murray) is an unkempt Sheepshead Bay loner, a Vietnam War vet who likes to toggle between the track or the bar. With the arrival of a new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) and, more significantly, her wide-eyed son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), the movie’s entire trajectory is clear: from grumpy after-class babysitting to surrogate father-son bonding and lessons in bully defense.
St. Vincent has nothing on Rushmore, an obvious forebearer, even though it strains for the same egalitarian spirit of thrown-together family, one that includes a pregnant Russian stripper (Naomi Watts) and a sympathetic but firm Catholic schoolteacher (Chris O’Dowd). Almost every actor’s performance is pitched toward indie caricature, all the better to showcase Murray’s subtle Irish honk (he’s unusually capable with the accent) and feisty old-school Brooklyn demeanor.
Does St. Vincent really need a school project in which Oliver has to give a speech about an everyday saint he knows? (Guess who?) Of course it doesn’t, but you get the appeal of putting Murray behind a podium. Less understandable are several third-act developments (a stroke, a death in Vincent’s secret circle, a triumphant physical rehabilitation), any one of which would have tipped the film into mush. You get all of them.
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