Film review – St. Vincent (Ted Melfi, 2014)

Note: This is a review that is full of spoilers. If you are yet to see the film then I suggest you don’t read on.

St Vincent is an indie film that charts a small-town tale of a young boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and their neighbour Vincent (Bill Murray), as they compete with their various individual struggles. Maggie is going through a divorce with her husband and has had to move away and start a new job to support herself and her son. Oliver is being bullied at his new school and is finding his way in a new neighbourhood without a father-figure (or indeed mother-figure) to guide him. Vince is an unlikely companion to Oliver, as he battles addictions to gambling and alcoholism.

Whilst Murray isn’t playing out of his comfort zone as a grumpy old man who is as sarcastic as he is rude, seeing him re-tread old ground is hardly a painful experience. Indeed, it’s exactly what we love him for and why he has been so successful in his career. It’s a little like when a band you love plays your favourite song as the encore – everyone is much older that the first time it came around but we all play along as it’s something we love experiencing.

There are some pretty unforgiveable plot holes in the film that really let it down and make it impossible to enjoy wholeheartedly. Whilst Naomi Watts is dong a fantastic job as the heavily pregnant dancer and “lady of the night”, it seems unfathomable that she’d have kept the baby and her jobs for so long. Whilst her being pregnant served as a humorous point for some good physical comedy, it was at the expense of the realistic façade Melfi had worked so hard to create.

It was confusing trying to rationalize Vince’s actions when they were eventually revealed to be revolving around keeping his wife in such an expensive care home. She has Alzheimer’s, which is a terrible condition, but since he wasn’t working and didn’t have any other responsibilities (children are never mentioned), if he truly loved his wife maybe he could have kept her at home instead of spending all his time with a Russian sex worker.

The most irrational decision was the choice of Maggie to palm off her son to a neighbour she knows only through arguments. It is convenient for both Maggie as a character and also as a key plot point around which to bend the storyline, but it would never happen. She also seems too quick and easy with her money, even though she is evidently struggling to make ends meet. Any of Vince’s personality traits would have set alarm bells ringing for a single mother, yet she chooses to ignore them all and employ him as a babysitter, essentially to serve the plot.

I also find it unlikely that the divorce would have been settled with joint custody of the child, when the evidence was clearly stacked against Maggie. If her husband was creating an equally bad environment for Oliver, then he would surely have gone into a foster home since neither parent was fit to care for their own child.

I forced myself to see past these flaws in order to enjoy the film, but a truly great film wouldn’t have asked so much of its audience.

St Vincent is out now at cinemas in the UK.

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