Bill Murray seems to have achieved mythical celebrity status lately. Not only is the man a comedy legend, but he also tends to show up in the strangest places, always up for having a good time and playing along. There's even a website documenting his urban legend appearances.
That said, Murray's turn in St. Vincent is a joy to watch. Murray plays Vincent, a retired alcoholic curmudgeon who, through a series of events, happens to end up watching his new neighbor's son. Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) is timid and shy, and Vincent feels compelled to take Oliver under his wing. Soon, Vincent and Oliver are best buds, and Vincent teaches him how to gamble, fight, and stand up for himself. In turn, Vincent's soft spot for Oliver gives us a hint that maybe this man hasn't always been a curmudgeon.
First and foremost, this film is a lot of fun. It's billed as a comedy, and it delivers. Murray and Lieberher have great chemistry, and Murray's pacing as the grouchy old man is perfect. Add in Melissa McCarthy as Oliver's mother, and Naomi Watts as the pregnant Russian prostitute Daka, and you've got an assortment of oddballs that somehow only make the film more charming. It was refreshing to see McCarthy adopt more of a straight (wo)man role here, reigning back her physical comedy. Watts as Daka was a strange character through and through. Why Russian? Why pregnant? Just why? Still, it allowed us to see a more caring, protective side of Vincent. Though strange, she's there to remind us that he really is a good guy. The first half was so cute and full of fun montages that I couldn't help musing they might end the film there and end on a happy note against conventions.
Of course, the second half of the film gets much more serious, which is where the film's weaknesses lie. While the script handles the lighter moments with ease, it falters in more dramatic moments, weighed down by clichés and sentimentality. Oftentimes, the characters didn't feel fleshed out enough to back up their actions, and the end of the movie felt completely disappointing in just how predictable it was. Still, Murray and the rest of the cast imbue this film with enough charm and heart that still make it enjoyable. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the schmaltz!