The film centers on Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) and his next door neighbor, Vincent (Murray). Oliver is new to his Brooklyn neighborhood. His mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), is divorcing his father, David (Scott Adsit), and starting a new job as a CAT scan technician. Her job requires her to work late hours and after Oliver is bullied at his new Catholic school and loses his house key, Maggie asks Vincent if he can watch Oliver in the afternoons. Vin agrees and through his interactions with Oliver, the audience learns to see more beneath Vin’s grouchy, deadbeat, and slimy shell. Of course, Vin is grouchy, deadbeat, and slimy, but there’s more there and Oliver sees it. An unlikely friendship develops between the two.
The film is very funny, and Murray delivers a pitch-perfect performance as Vin. It will also tug on your heartstrings. While some may feel that the film is too sentimental, I thought it worked well. Sometimes, we need moves that have a good heart too. Now, that doesn’t mean the film is perfect by any means. At times, the film feels like it exists in its own bubble in that you’ll watch scenes and declare, “Oh, that would never happen.” This also plays into my main criticism of the film that several things happen way too easily in order to move the plot along. There’s a lot of convenience at play here that rankles against the hallmarks of good storytelling. However, this is supposed to be a feel good movie and it’s easy to let this little quibbles slide, as the film is so damn enjoyable.
The cast does a great job here. Lieberher’s performance is very natural and never too saccharine. One of my favorite parts in the film is how he handles school bully Ocinski (Dario Barosso) and how that relationship progresses from there. As mentioned, Murray is his usual fantastic self. He commits fully to his character and never breaks. He’s both sweet and despicable in the role, which drives the film. McCarthy is excellent as overwhelmed mother Maggie. When McCarthy is doing her usual bawdy shtick, she’s hit or miss, but in a movie like this, where she’s playing an actual character, she has room to shine. Chris O’Dowd makes the most of his role as Oliver’s priest/teacher, while Naomi Watts is funny as Russian prostitute/stripper, Daka, even though her accent is way over the top. Terrence Howard does fine as the bookie Vin is in debt to, but he isn’t given much to do. His side plot is much darker compared to the general tone of the film, so it kind of sticks out awkwardly.
Overall, I found St. Vincent to be highly enjoyable. It takes a few storytelling shortcuts here and there, but it is really funny and very touching. Check it out if you have a chance.