Monday, 15 December 2014

St. Vincent

Murray Mint

The cult of Bill Murray shows no signs of abating. Walk on parts in Wes Anderson films are greeted with hoots of joy, his face adorns the galactic corners of geeky cyberspace, and the comedian holds the record for playing himself the most times in movies (four). Considering, however, how rarely his sardonic routine differs, you might say he has been playing Bill Murray all along. No matter how many times the star of Ghostbusters repeats the same deadpan expression, it seems he never loses his appeal.

With St. Vincent, familiar ground is tread in a tidy, undemanding piece of independent cinema. Without necessarily falling in love with its quiet tone, I was struck by its tale of a boy finding an unconventional role model in his grouchy old neighbour. For £4 on a Saturday afternoon in the lovely auditorium of the Watershed in Bristol, I do not have any room for complaint.

When a struggling mother and son (Melissa McCarthy and Jaeden Lieberher) move into a new home, they are confronted by the crass misanthrope next door (Murray). As an emergency measure, the young boy is taken under Vincent's wing as an impromptu babysitter arrangement. Despite plenty of upheavals - not least the eponymous character's destructive behaviour and drinking - the two form an unlikely bond.

As a story without obvious comedy or dramatic potential, St. Vincent was always going to be a tough sell. Nevertheless, modest box office figures should not deter any Murray aficionados from giving it a watch. It may not possess the kooky confidence of Broken Flowers or Rushmore, but with some delicious supporting performances from McCarthy and the newcomer Lieberher, there is still much indie sensitivity to savour.

Although Naomi Watts is well-cast in the role, the character of Daka - a heavily pregnant Russian prostitute - was perhaps misjudged. She provides most of the funnier moments but does not quite fit with the ongoing homely tone. I have a niggling thought in the back of my mind that a sizable chunk of her screentime would have been better served by carving more from McCarthy's uncharacteristically restrained performance as the lonely mother. Then again, that might totally uneven the balance of the narrative, especially when Watts does such a successful job.

Ultimately though, there is only one star of the show. The irrepressible Murray is never pushed outside of his comfort zone but his cantankerous antics still raise a smile.


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