Monday, January 5, 2015

St. Vincent (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director and Writer: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Scott Adsit, Chris O'Dowd

St. Vincent is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Roadshow Films.

Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent is a perfect example of how the right casting can create something truly special from a story which is not completely innovative. While the film is indeed well made, the story of Vincent and his neighbours is not overly creative and rather predictable. However, it is the characters which are extremely well developed and absolutely fascinating that are brought to life by wonderful performances that truly make the film a completely memorable experience.

When one has the misfortune of meeting Vincent (Bill Murray), it is obvious with his extreme brutal honesty, disregard for personal hygiene and aggressive outlook that he is not a people person. That becomes problematic when recently divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door and Vincent offers to look after Oliver each day after school for a chosen fee. Oliver finds that he cannot change who Vincent is, but he sees past his tough front and understands who this man truly is.

While the screenplay is beautifully written and Theodore Melfi is a wonderful storyteller, it is not a revolutionary story with a great deal of originality. The story of a youngster befriending someone from an older generation and the two of them finding out how much they need each other is a film plot that seems to come around periodically and when it does always offers little unpredictability. It has become a story which can now only really work in a film if the screenplay is exceptionally strong and has intriguing characters which connect on an emotional level with audiences. St. Vincent is indeed one of these films. Melfi does a wonderful job at turning a story so often told before into a fresh cinematic experience with his wonderful direction in this character driven film.

 It is in this way that St. Vincent is a film which relies more on it's characters than it does it's story in order for it to work. Without the incredibly interesting and deep characters brought to life in brilliant performances by Murray, McCarthy and Watts, the film would feel rather ordinary and unmemorable. This is not to say that the film has only one good aspect, as this is not the case. It's soundtrack fits well with the tone of the film and the cinematography gives the audience the chance to really feel what it is like to be in the Brooklyn which the film is set in. There are some truly tender and emotional moments in the film, some of which are tragic and others completely heart warming. However, it are the characters and performances that allow one to forget how many times they have seen this story done in film before.

The casting of the four main characters in St. Vincent is perfect. Unlike many protagonists, Bill Murray ensures that Vincent wins no fans as the film opens. He is repulsive and repellent, which makes he and his story all the more intriguing. He never completely restores himself in the audience's eyes, yet he does produce moments which evoke sympathy and he is still enormously entertaining to watch as a result. Murray is excellent in the lead and gives an incredibly well rounded performance of a complex human being. He has wonderful on screen chemistry with young Jaeden Lieberher, who in his feature film debut does wonderfully. The way in which his character of Oliver develops throughout the film is incredibly portrayed by an actor of such a young age.

As the broken Maggie, Melissa McCarthy gives her best performance to date. From her first moments on screen as her and Oliver move into the house next door to Vincent, one feels her overwhelming sadness and pities her without even knowing the full scope of the situation her and Oliver have found themselves in. Maggie is McCarthy's most likable role in her career so far and shows her incredible dramatic ability. On the other hand, Naomi Watts as Vincent's pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend, Daka paddles into the unknown waters of comedy (if her role in the dud Movie 43 is neglected) and is an absolute delight. Although her character has some moments of distaste as Vincent does, the heavily pregnant lady of the night is larger than life in personality and Watts is a complete joy in this role.

St. Vincent is an example of starting with something that is neither overly interesting or special, and understanding what to do in order to make it special.



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