4 stars
Stories about Middle America are often quirky and contain characters that seem to inhabit a parallel universe.
In Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent, which he directed and also wrote, we meet a perfect example in Vincent (Bill Murray – The Grand Budapest Hotel) who is a financially challenged, misanthropic, disinhibited, alcohol-riddled Vietnam War veteran, and pretty jaded about life in general. When a new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher – Playing It Cool) move in next door, things get off to a shaky start when the removalists manage to break a limb off a curb-side tree, which falls onto Vincent’s fence and prized possession – his car.

To make matters worse, the recently divorced Maggie then calls upon Vincent to baby-sit her kid Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) as she is desperately trying to earn money and establish a good reputation in her new nursing position by putting in longer hours. Vincent is happy to take on the job for a fee, paid by the hour. This “show me the money” theme is a recurring one in this film, for Vincent in turn pays for the services of a Russian prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts - Diana, Adoration), while he is preyed upon by Zucko (Terence Howard – Prisoners) for his gambling debts and Shirley (Anne Dowd – Side Effects), the administrator of the expensive nursing home administering to Vincent’s wife. It seems, in this slice of Middle America, there is never enough cash to go around.

This is a brilliantly cast film with exceptional performances by all. Murray is once again perfect in both his physical and mental portrayal of Vincent. His laconic, weary face shows the depth of his despair and even though he is a rather unlikeable human being, there is something about him that generates sympathy. His baby-sitter role becomes more of a ‘mentoring’ one as Oliver is taken to seedy bars and a racecourse as part of his ‘education.’ A more traditional kind of mentoring is provided by Oliver’s teacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd – The Sapphires), who brings comic relief and moral guidance to the boy. Lieberher is a very watchable young performer and you get the feeling we will be seeing more of him in the future. Naomi Watts is hilarious as she taps into the role of the Russian ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ perfectly. Her ‘look,’ accent and general chip-on-her-shoulder attitude fits well with this story of a group of misfits who, reluctantly, come to realise that they need each other. Credit must also go to McCarthy who does a complete turn-around here, playing it straight as the hard-working mother; she has a really sweet screen presence that is a far cry from the over-egged loudmouth persona of her previous roles.

With the release of major studio films over the Christmas period, this little indie gem is in danger of being overlooked but it’s one of the best of the crop. It doesn’t rely on CGI or a massive budget to deliver a watchable and highly entertaining story that avoids cheap sentimentality. Don’t be surprised if Murray gets an Academy Award nomination for his role as Vincent, having earned a nod in the Golden Globes already. It could well get tapped in the Best Picture category, too. Watts deserves credit for her ability to swing from Diana to Daka effortlessly and it will be interesting to see if McCarthy takes on more serious roles in the future as she certainly has the talent. That’s what makes this film so good - go for the performances, you won’t be disappointed.


Previewed at Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on Monday 8 December 2014


Bill Murray
Melissa McCarthy
Naomi Watts
Chris O’Dowd

Theodore Melfi

Theodore Melfi



102 minutes

December 26, 2014
St. Vincent (2014) on IMDb