Will the Academy please give Bill Murray an Oscar? Hopefully not for something as dire as St. Vincent, but as it seems to be one of his goals as he’s been making movies like it and Hyde Park on the Hudson, which are a waste of his great gifts. At this point if Murray isn’t appearing in a film for one of his friends (like Wes Anderson) or is making a cameo, the movie is likely to be near unwatchable. Murray stars alongside Naomi Watts and Melissa McCarthy in St. Vincent, and it’s unfortunate that so much talent went for naught.
Murray plays Vincent, who’s introduced as a drunk, a gambler, and someone who’s sleeping with the pregnant Russian prostitute Daka (Watts). The film kicks into gear when Maggie (McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door and when the kids at Oliver’s private school start bullying him, he’s left with no phone or keys and so he stays next door with Vincent, which leads to Vincent becoming a babysitter/mentor. And you totally know what happens next as Vincent acts like a slob and takes the kid to the track where he owes money to the local bookie (Terrence Howard), but also reveals that his wife has Alzheimer’s, and that he’s actually a loveable guy once you get past his gruff exterior. He also teaches Oliver how to defend himself, which works out but gets the kid in trouble at school.
Oh man. There’s no surprises, but it’s possible that the film read great on the page as writer/director Theodore Melfi’s script attracted so much talent (the film also features Ann Dowd, Chris O’Dowd, Scott Adsit and more). Or perhaps it’s that The Weinstein Company, sensing that Murray was hunting for an academy award, packaged the film in a way that made it seem like an Oscar home run. Surely everyone involved would want to work with Bill Murray, so perhaps Harvey Weinstein whispered in Murray’s ear and the film came together around the former Ghostbuster. And the reason why it’s worth analyzing how the film came together is because it’s surely more interesting than the film they ended up with. It’s possible that if a viewer has never seen a film before the film might come off as fresh and original, but it would require limited experience for this film to be viewed as anything other than milquetoast.
From the wacky Russian “lady of the night” with a heart of gold, to McCarthy’s reignited troubles with her ex-husband, to the stroke that Vincent has, there’s nothing here that doesn’t schematically exist to tug at heartstrings or exist for the easiest possible jokes. Murray is unfortunately cast adrift in the material, and the spark that has made him one of the greatest comic actors of the last thirty some years only shows up from time to time. A sequence where Vincent gets Oliver to mow his lawn – even though he has no grass – must have played better on the page, but in the film it just feels so forced. It’s impossible not to love Murray, he’s a legend, he’s everything we want him to be as a merry prankster, but it would be tragic for him to spend his autumn years making movies that exist solely for him to get awards. At this point it would be worth giving him the lifetime achievement award just to stop him from making more movies like this.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release comes with a digital copy, while the film is presented widescreen (1.85:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The presentation is flawless. Extras are limited to twelve deleted scenes (10 min.), which would have made the film worse as they offer even more neatness into the narrative, while “Bill Murray Is St. Vincent: The Patron Saint of Comedy” (20 min.) collects two Q&A’s from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival that Murray attended, one for this film, and the other for an anniversary screening of Ghostbusters. The questions are solid, though it’s telling that the stuff on Ghostbusters is more interesting.