Let’s get down to brass tacks: St. Vincent made me cry a little. If a movie has the ability to do THAT to me, then it must be doing something, right?
St. Vincent is the most non-cheesy cheesy movie that you will ever see. If anyone else were put in these roles and the script were excised of most of the debauchery, then this could possibly be a good Lifetime movie. Fortunately for us, the movie stars to of the greatest comedic actors of our time: Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. Not to mention a fun performance by Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian stripper which, in some sort of bizarre context, works well, but still makes me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable.
Then there’s the heart of the movie: a kid named Oliver played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher. By his appearance, it’s obvious that little Oliver would be victim to bullying at school. When his very caring and trying-her-best-but-too-busy-with-work single mom (McCarthy) leaves him to his own devices in a new town, he is left stranded on his doorstep after someone steals his keys and cell phone at his new school. When his superbly rude and inappropriate neighbor Vincent pulls up, he asks if he can use his phone to call his mom. Thus begins a mentor/mentee relationship that will withstand the test cinematic time.
Because his mom is so desperate, Vincent becomes his after school babysitter and introduces him to a whole hedonistic life that includes horse racing, mowing a dirt lawn, sushi in the form of sardines and crackers, lessons in how to break noses and colorful language.
Of course, there is a soft side to Vincent amidst all of his vile behavior. Otherwise, he would just be an asshole and it would make this film a complete failure. His wife has Alzheimer’s and he goes and visits her at a home. Director/writer Theodore Melfi presents this in a way that doesn’t knock you over the head with a bag full of Nicholas Sparks movies. Like I said, it’s a cheesy movie, with none of the cheese. Instead, it brings out appreciative sentiment — and it was very unexpected.
Because of the comedic cast and the trailers, I was expecting this to be a two-hour laugh riot. Instead, there was a lot of heart — and that was unexpected. In retrospect, I guess you need a good amount of heart to balance out the selfishness and borderline monstrous character of Vincent.
There are plenty of moments in the film that had me on the verge of tears and most of them involved Oliver. Normally, I loathe precocious kids in movies and television as much as Madonna loathes hydrangeas (don’t even get me started on all those damn kids in Modern Family). There was something about Oliver and the way Lieberher played him. He wasn’t a victim, yet he wasn’t strong. He was curious and smart enough where it didn’t compromise his role as a child. He was vulnerable like a real kid. He was the kind of kid that you would want to root for and protect. So when something bad happened to him you would want to beat the shit out of the person that inflicted harm on him. When he succeeded, you wanted to lift him on your shoulders and celebrate the victory. (The character of Vincent did both of these.) Lieberher did this so well, specifically in the moments when he tells his mom that he knows she is trying her best or when he is trying to salvage the weird relationship he has with Vincent. It’s expected that Murray and McCarthy would do a good job in these roles — and they do. But it’s Lieberher that is the true gem of this film.
Maybe it’s because I relate to the bullying story arc of Oliver too well or maybe it’s because I was just need of a good cry the day I watched the film, but whatever the reason, St. Vincent served up some quality emotional realness. It taught us that if you can peel away all of those asshole layers of the biggest asshole you know, then you will still find an asshole…but he’ll have a heart of gold.
St. Vincent opens in select theaters today.