If you would like to end 2014 or start 2015 on an upbeat note, here is a touching story written, directed and produced by Ted Melfi and portrayed by the irascible charmer American actor Bill Murray.
The English term ‘saint’ in the main applies to a person officially recognised by the Christian church as someone entitled to public veneration. Generally they are also capable of interceding for people on earth, understanding what it means to be a nonconformist. Vincent McKenna fits the bill.
A Saint in today’s terms would mean they would have to be able to embrace the best and worst aspects of our humanity, including some of the elements of the civilising influence and cultural heritage that gave us birth. They would also need to unwittingly make an impact on people’s lives, and he does.
You cannot help feeling this is a role and character Murray was ‘born to play’. His Vincent has a ‘cultivated apathy’ towards his fellow man. He smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, curses with the best of them, takes advantage of everyone and generally behaves badly. He is no gentleman.
We don’t want to provide too many spoilers and there’s a lot more to this story than first meets the eye. There will also no doubt be cynics who would see this small gem as somewhat clichéd.
And in some parts perhaps it is.
However, whatever way you look at it, St Vincent and the heavenly odyssey he embarks upon with his new best friend and charge Oliver, projects the true meaning of the Xmas message; caring, courage, compassion and love.
The action all takes place in Sheepshead Bay, an area separating the mainland of Brooklyn and New York City from the eastern portion of Coney Island.
Brooklyn is a working class neighbourhood where joy is not always part of everyone’s experience of life.
It’s a place that used to be a food bowl area for the city, providing early followers of the way with plenty of fish for Friday’s.
It is also where a diversity of people from all creeds and cultures on earth gathered in search of a new life, a search that today is ongoing.
This time it involves Maggie, a role played with just the right touch by comedian Melissa McCarthy, who together with her small son Oliver, a brilliant performance from the youthful Jaeden Lieberher, move in next door to the grumpy old man from hell.
This deeply offensive man is living a somewhat sedentary un-saintly existence, hanging out for much of his day on a broken down daybed in the back garden surrounded by a dead lawn.
It’s not a great initial meeting with Vincent who responds with a torrent of blasphemy when Maggie’s removal truck smashes a branch off Vincent’s tree on the footpath and he claims compensation.
He is perfectly willing to let her and the movers also think they destroyed his front fence too, despite having done that himself the night before. backing his car into his driveway in the dark when drunk.
Maggie’s not having a good time, she is in the throws of a distressing divorce.
She is trying hard to work out how she will manage to work full time at a nearby hospital and be a full time Mum to Oliver as well.
The answer is obvious, she can’t and so seizing the moment Vincent, who desperately needs to earn some cash, steps up with his hand out.
He becomes Oliver’s after school minder and in their travels together Vincent provides his small charge with a great many engaging and completely unexpected lessons in living life.
They include learning about the art of commerce, the art of risk taking, the art of self defense, the art of appreciating beauty and, the art of love.
Although perhaps not in quite the way you would think.
In return Vincent also gets more than he bargained for.
Going to a ‘private’ boys school is a whole new experience for Oliver and being small and ‘Jewish’ means he will be sure to be picked on by Ocinski the class bully (Dario Barosso), which he is.
However, help is at hand as his new minder is used to being the underdog and so teaches the kid a few ‘Karate Kid’ moves of his own so he can stand on his two small feet.
Mercifully Oliver also hits the jackpot with his teacher.
Chris O’Dowd is just perfect as the good-natured, witty and wonderful down-to-earth Roman Catholic priest Father Geraghty, who gives his kids a ‘saintly’ assignment.
They are to research, write an essay and present it in the auditorium to the whole school and their visitors about a modern day saint they know about.
You can be sure a lot of them will think of Mother Theresa, and in Australia perhaps Mary McKillop.
However Oliver, now spending buckets of time with the unforgettable Vincent thinks that his minder may just be a likely candidate.
It’s a fanciful idea, but we can be sure it will more than likely work as we get to know ‘St Vincent’ well.
Murray proves what a master he is at this acting gig, giving students of acting a lesson in how to inhabit a character. He is the ‘grizzled eccentric’, the man admired and cherished in his field by peers, a true joy to observe.
Vince is up to his eyeballs in debt, most of it gone on drink, gambling lavishly at the racetrack, owing money to the ‘mob’, scamming it from friends, even from Oliver, as well as sleeping with a ‘lady of the night’.
This new lady in his life Daka is played by an almost unrecognizable Aussie actor Naomi Watts, whose Russian accent sounds like it came from ‘Get Smart’… !
She is clearly reveling in playing the role of a pregnant hooker with a heart of gold.
As Oliver notes when his mum asks if he knows what a ‘lady of night’ is, he reflects … sure…”she’s a lady who works at night?”
Kids, they bring you down to earth at every turn.
Oliver is not fooled by Vincent’s hardball screwed up act either, because he has discovered the real reason why his ‘saint’ is so unhappy, and just why he’s nearly gone to the wall financially.
Whether on the cornball, or creative side, you would have to be jaded with life not to enjoy Bill Murray’s gem of a performance and the kids as well. He’s a knockout too.
It’s hard not to shed a tear towards the end as Oliver acknowledges all the good things his Saint has done for him by relating the lessons in life he has learned from this ‘unique emotionally manipulative’ crusty, cranky, crude apalling individual.
Give yourself a treat. Take a friend to see The Weinstein Company’s comedic drama St. Vincent at a Palace Cinema near you.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
The Weinstein Company
Written and Directed by Theodore Melfi
Bill Murray – Vincent
Melissa McCarthy – Maggie
Naomi Watts – Daka
Chris O’Dowd – Brother Geraghty
Jaeden Lieberher – Oliver
Terrence Howard – Zucko