“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
When I was a kid growing up in Northeast Philly, there was an old man who lived next door to my friend. Old Man Newbert’s screen door would always be open when my friend and I were playing out front on our busy city block. Time and time again, we would say hello to the serious looking man that would look at us with an intense, dead glare (thank God he wasn’t a pedophile) and never did he murmur a word towards us. Maybe he was just messing around trying to scare us (which it did at times) and this was the way he got his kicks in some weird summertime psychological experiment with neighborhood kids? Maybe he was a nice guy and just shy? Maybe he was a mute since birth or lost his tongue in some weird accident, who knows? Kids imagine the craziest things. These memories of Old Man Newbert came flooding back to me when I watched St. Vincent (2014).
Vincent, Bill Murray of Broken Flowers (2005), is a surly Vietnam veteran retiree and son of hardnosed working immigrants residing in Brooklyn. Vincent is a foul mouthed, negative alcoholic who chain smokes and gambles his days away waiting for death to come knocking. He has no money, massive debts, no future and his only prospect is the possibility he is the expectant father with pregnant Russian stripper/call girl Daka, Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive (2001), who visits him every Tuesday for a weekly paid financial love exchange.
One morning after a bender and nursing a doozy of a hangover, Vincent’s little world changes when single mother and new divorcee Maggie, Melissa McCarthy of Tammy (2014) and her very astute son Oliver, Jaeden Lieberher of Playing it Cool (2014), move in next door. One thing leads to another during the adjustment phase and Oliver is in need of an after school babysitter which due to his rising debts, Vincent reluctantly agrees, but only after negotiating on an agreed fee for his services.
As time persists, Vincent becomes an unlikely and unorthodox mentor for young Oliver who is in need of guidance and much needed attention by an adult male in this difficult time of his life. The two form an unlikely friendship, though the horse track and bar visits which are part of his afterschool daycare plan. They begin to grow and learn from each other even as life throws more curveballs through the duration of the film.
St. Vincent, written and directed by Theodore Melfi of Roshambo (2010), overall is an enjoyable film. It reminds me a bit of a comedic version, and just a bit, of Clint Eastwood’s racial romp, award winning Gran Torino (2008). St. Vincent has a good balance of humor and realistic drama which result in a genuine and at times thoughtful movie. Lieberher (very enjoyable to watch in his first role) and Murray work well as a duo and the friendship and sincerity between the two are felt and believable but have been seen time and time again between a cantankerous old man and yearning youth to learn in The Bad News Bears (1976) and Bad Santa (2003). Murray is and always has been fun to watch as he effortlessly moves through his roles. Naturally, he has been taken a bit more serious in his craft within the past twenty years, since aligning himself with directors like Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch, and Wes Anderson.
Not the biggest fan of McCarthy’s tiresome shtick, it was nice to see her deliver a more warm and non-obnoxious character that has become her forte in the past couple of years since Bridesmaids (2011). Watt’s does a good Russian accent and is believable, but I found her character somewhat cold and unlikeable throughout the 102 minute runtime even when she was playing off of the crass Murray. I understand she is playing an Eastern Block immigrant and their personalities are more stern though ours, but at no time does she ever show the glimpse of being the hooker with a heart or caring about those around her, but that’s just me.
St. Vincent is worth a view at least once and it does lend some positive points and lessons to remember as we truck along in the sometimes rough and tumble concrete jungle of life. The cinematography was visually appealing, but no time made me miss the claustrophobic and dirty streets of the tough city life.
We have all been around someone who is lives in a shell of absolute grumpiness (usually brought on from years of self-inflicted regrets), socially insensitive, and the old man yelling at kids for stepping on his lawn or when a ball lands in his yard. We all know that man. That man under the world worn deep exterior, does have a soft interior or a bright light inside like the rest of us. Maybe through time and patience, or a smile that man can see the light once again…even you Old Man Newbert. Have a good weekend and remember what successful radio host Bernard Meltzer shared with us, “Happiness is like a kiss. You must share it to enjoy it.”