On paper, St. Vincent looks like an average Hollywood comedy: the premise is quirky, the actors are well-known and the soundtrack is familiar. However, the story of an irritable, crotchety and alcoholic Vietnam War veteran who acts as an unlikely babysitter for the son of his new neighbour is not quite as simplistic on screen as it seemed in the trailer. The fortunate coming together of a great script, well-developed characters and a talented cast of actors yielded plenty of laughs and a few muffled tears from the audience last Thursday night at The Vogue.
Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, who are so often cast in the same predictable roles, were given complex and well-written characters in this film. At first glance, the character of Vincent (Murray) seems static and overdone. However, over the course of the film he gradually develops, adding layers of backstory and complexity to the familiar character trope of “grumpy old man.” Combined with the actors’ personal spin and comedic timing, the unorthodox cast of characters compliments each other perfectly.
Vincent’s character would have been diminished if not for the stellar debut performance of 10-year-old Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver. Son of newly divorced Maggie (McCarthy), Oliver challenges Vincent’s off-putting disposition without stopping him from going about his regular drinking, gambling and general grouching. When Oliver’s school assignment is to research an “everyday saint” in his life, he begins to look at his neighbor-turned-babysitter in a new light.
St. Vincent tells several stories at once, but the film’s subtle sub-plots comment on the life of aging Vietnam veterans. Once the film gets past Vincent’s exterior, the story unfolds to reveal the many other trials ongoing in his life. Refreshingly, the film doesn’t try to justify Vincent’s behaviour with an oh-so-sad backstory.
Though it gets sentimental towards the end of the film, the writers struck an ideal balance between terms of comedic and serious material. Vincent is shown gambling, drinking in excess, and clearly has issues with anger management. He’s also in debt up to his eyeballs, and has a pregnant girlfriend for whom he cannot provide his share of finances.
Despite his problems, the film does not glorify Vincent as a saint merely because he fought in combat for his country, but rather explores what a young boy sees as sainthood in his day-to-day interactions with his quasi-babysitter and friend.