Somehow, most of the Hollywood heroes and influencers that we as an audience can look up to are toiling away with their own sins. It happens for the eponymous St. Vincent, played by Bill Murray. He is indeed a nasty piece of work, and that is meant to be the enthralling part of him. “Love thy neighbour” the simple tagline of this feature was, and that is, in a literal sense, the point of this film. We are to embrace those that live next door, down the road, across the street. Just in case we fall on hard times and have nobody else to turn to. Its titular character and his neighbours find comfort in that rule of thumb.
St. Vincent has all the tropes and copes needed for a light comedy-drama. Chris O’Dowd plays the supporting comedy outlier, a religious teacher whose humour is primarily based on the notion that he is both Irish and a teacher. Comedy gold, to be fair. St. Vincent is light enough for it to work and heavy enough for the poignancy of this Theodore Melfi feature to hit home hard. Melissa McCarthy turns in a strong performance too, her competency and confidence in roles that blur her comedic woes and her definitive abilities as a dramatic lead are a striking difference. Night and day between this and something such as The Boss or Superintelligence. When she is to play characters like Maggie Bronstein or Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? she is in her element. St. Vincent is a film full of casting surprises.
None more than Murray, where we are treated once more to another layer of the man we’ve come to love. He is the grifter gliding on by, with an odd vocal range and careless attitude to life. He lacks meaning. Life should, truly, have some sense of meaning or thought to it. But as Vincent mourns the endlessly dull world around him, the grieving process kicks in. Hard up on cash, miserably devoted to drinking the days away, it is hard to blame him for doing so. St. Vincent wishes to do away with the coercive but concerned bartender tropes, and the support network dive bars offer is simply non-existent. Murray does as good a job as anyone in handling that, channelling moments of Steve Buscemi’s irrefutable dancing skills in Trees Lounge, but without the annoying overtones of a remorseless character, or the undertones of a sexual predator. Vincent is a flawed man, but at least he isn’t morally irredeemable.
Redemption is the angle St. Vincent wishes to take, and it does so well enough. As he wallows on the floor with bloodied hand and hungover head, his main concern is extinguishing the noise from outside, so he can go back to sleep on the floor. How nobody notices this as he verbally berates them is beyond me, but St. Vincent has many lost concerns. It focuses on the wrong touching moments. Capable at times, and with an ending that feels tacky yet resourceful, St. Vincent certainly isn’t the finest feature, but it has a finite quality to it, and accepting realisation found within that bad people are often role models for the inner goodness. It is with a little help from our friends that we can coax those qualities to the surface, and that is a nice message for any film to have, even one where Murray knocks himself out on a cupboard.