DIRECTED BY Theodore Melfi
STARS Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy
Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent (Photo: The Weinstein Company)
It's been attributed to everyone from Oscar Wilde and Edmund Kean to Groucho Marx and Edmund Gwenn, yet it actually feels like the adage "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." has been around ever since the first Greek philosopher-comic slipped on a banana peel. 2014 has given rise to a number of terrific turns that were doubtless conceived through blood, sweat and cheers, with Ralph Fiennes' exquisite work in The Grand Budapest Hotel heading the pack. Now joining Fiennes, Dom Hemingway's Jude Law, The Other Woman's Leslie Mann and Obvious Child's Jenny Slate is Bill Murray, who once again knocks it out of the park with a terrific performance in St. Vincent.
Murray stars as Vincent, a misanthropic curmudgeon whose current lot in life can be summed up by that Clint Eastwood chestnut from Gran Torino, "Get off my lawn!" Vincent has little use for other people, with his only frequent visitor being Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant Russian stripper he employs as a "woman of the night." That changes, though, once the recently divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door. Initially, Vincent couldn't care less about Maggie or her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), but he changes his tune — slightly — once he realizes that Maggie will pay him to look after her boy each weekday after school.
The old man and the young kid — it's a hoary contrivance that's fueled many a movie, even such hits as Up and the aforementioned Gran Torino. It even popped up earlier this year in And So It Goes, in which Michael Douglas plays a grouchy guy who finally thaws under the gaze of the granddaughter he never knew he had. But while Douglas' character never felt particularly heartless, that's certainly not the case here. Murray's Vincent is often odious, and when we finally think he's softening up, he turns around and becomes even more insufferable. It's a bravura turn, one which gives this picture an extra kick.
That's not to suggest St. Vincent doesn't finally bow down to some sentimental inclinations toward the end, though never as heavily as one might expect. And with McCarthy, Watts and Chris O'Dowd (as the cheerful Brother Geraghty) providing solid support, Lieberher proving to be a real find, and Murray delivering his best performance since 2003's Lost in Translation, there's enough excellence on tap to occasionally turn this picture into a blessed event.