St Vincent

ST VINCENT. Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher, Kimberly Quinn, Donna Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Scott Adsit. Directed by Theodore Melfi. 102 minutes, Rated M (Mature themes, violence,sex scene and coarse language).

Do you have a working definition of a saint? Do you have an opinion of what holiness comprises?

These are fair enough questions to put before the audience because Brother Geraghty, at St Patrick’s School in Brooklyn, asks these same questions of his young students as he conducts a course on saints, contemporary saints. Of course, they come up with Mother Teresa as many audiences would. But, are there some unlikely saints? With a title like St Vincent, this film will probably put forward a case.

Especially when Vincent is played by Bill M ST VINCENT. Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher, Kimberly Quinn, Donna Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Scott Adsit. Directed by Theodore Melfi. 102 minutes, Rated M (Mature themes, violence,sex scene and coarse language).

Do you have a working definition of a saint? Do you have an opinion of what holiness comprises?

These are fair enough questions to put before the audience because Brother Geraghty, at St Patrick’s School in Brooklyn, asks these same questions of his young students as he conducts a course on saints, contemporary saints. Of course, they come up with Mother Teresa as many audiences would. But, are there some unlikely saints? With a title like St Vincent, this film will probably put forward a case.

Especially when Vincent is played by Bill Murray, who in the past has been scrooged, lost in Tokyo and in translation, and can do a very good eccentrically misanthropic curmudgeon. Which he does here. This is Bill Murray and his best, completely inhabiting an oddball character, interacting with others with seemingly little regard for their opinions and feelings. The first thing we see as him drinking and driving home drunk, backing into his house and smashing his picket fence. No worries, he goes inside his messy house, drinking and watching television. Such is his life.

It changes the next morning when a delivery van backs into his fence and knocks down a branch from his tree, never confessing that he had already broken the fence and, throughout the film, getting it mended and paid for by others! The delivery van is for Maggie (Melissa McCarthy in a rather enjoyably toned-down performance from her usual) and Oliver (a very welcome child actor, Jaeden Lieberher), a polite and sensible young man, aged 11, who, we know, will have a transforming influence on Vin (but don’t get your hopes too high).

Maggie, of course, has separated from her philandering husband, is wary about court proceedings for custody, is busy with her job at the hospital, and find she has to leave Oliver in Vin’s care (not without financial cost to herself).

Oliver is slight and is bullied at school but, fortunately, although none of us and the characters approve of fighting, Vin has been a boxer and trains Oliver with his punching bag to do a fierce upper cut. And that is not the only influence Viin has on Oliver, taking him to the races where his threatening bookie (Terrence Howard) is after repayment, taking him to a bar to meet his friends, but Oliver drinking only cola. Then there is Vin’s friend, who, Vin explains to Oliver, is a “lady of the night”. Daka is played by Naomi Watts, Russian-accented and all, a good friend to Vin, cleans up his house, is pregnant and helped by Vin with insurance coverage as well as buying a pram. Oliver takes much of this for granted, as well as a visit to a residence for the elderly where Vin’s wife rather cheerfully lives with dementia, Ben visiting her and pretending to be her doctor.

This means that there is quite a lot of plot, especially with Vin’s later hospitalisation and therapy, with everybody pitching in. And the custody court case where Maggie realises that she does not know a lot of what has been going on.

In the meantime, Brother Geraghty (and exuberantly Irish Chris O’Dowd) has been a good support, helps the students through an understanding of what goodness in contemporary society could mean, and gets them to do a project on a Saint they have experienced, possibly a parent. So it’s not spoiling the plot when we realise that Oliver researches Vin, finds out a great deal about his life which surprises us, and then presents his project to the school, family and friends.

So, by the end of the film, audiences will be measuring Vin and his alleged sanctity against people they know – and, as from the Gospels and Jesus’ friendship with and compassion for those on society’s edge, we can acknowledge that it is not quite inappropriate to call Oliver’s friend and mentor, St Vincent.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Released 26th December 2014.

Roadshow.


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