' ' Cinema Romantico: St. Vincent

Monday, October 27, 2014

St. Vincent

Parables are often associated with the Bible and the Bible is often associated with Bible Study and in an increasingly secular American society who wants to go to Bible Study to hear about Jesus and The Mustard Seed for the umpteenth time? So instead writer/director Theodore Melfi has invented a parable from the ground-up in "St. Vincent", a title that works as a dead giveaway to its religious overtones. The film tells a fairly obvious lesson via a fairly predictable formula but then people don't turn to parables to parse through them on account of their complex nature and hidden meanings. They turn to parables to cite them as obvious lessons.

To compensate for its obviousness, Melfi casts Bill Murray as the title character, a decision that is fairly obvious in its own right but nonetheless inspiring because even if Mr. Murray goes out for a round of golf he can turn those 18 holes into a work of comic genius. The first shot of "St. Vincent", in fact, sets Murray at a neighborhood bar, getting sloshed and telling a joke. And even if the joke isn't funny, because it isn't meant to be, it establishes the film's overriding intention to simply sit back and allow its charismatic star to hold court.

In a role suggesting Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski re-cast as Hugh Grant's Will Freeman, Murray is Vincent, a drunken habitual gambler, his debts expanding and his depression bordering on zero hour. His messy life is given untraditional semblance of structure when he becomes the babysitter for Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), an eleven year old who has just moved to the neighborhood with his single mom (Melissa McCarthy), overworked and struggling. An untraditional (traditional) mentorship ensues: Vincent teaches him to throw a punch, takes him to the racetrack, bellys him up to the bar, etc., though he does not so much warm to Oliver as tolerate him, offering selfless guidance in tandem with spectacular self-absorption. Narcissistic pricks, in other words, can be saints too.

In spite of all this bawdiness, Vincent, like his lady-friend Daka (Naomi Watts), the brassy Russian lady of the night, has a heart of gold. We know this by the patient way in which he attends to his Alzheimer's-addled wife, sadly forced to live out her end of days at a nursing home he can barely afford. And his goodness only increases as the film progresses, revealing his past in increments as Oliver is tasked by his Catholic school teacher (Chris O'Dowd) to write about a living saint.

The Catholic church merely recognizes saints, it does not make them, and yet the pseudo-investigative journalism done by Oliver in the third act to track down Vincent's past does precisely the latter. It makes him into a saint rather than just letting the character exist beatifically on his own terms. The final moments when he ascends the stage to be annoited seem like too much pomp and circumstance for such a dickishly holy guy. I preferred the incredible shot near the beginning, in his corner watering hole, when he puts Jefferson Airplane on the jukebox as the camera watches him through one of those cheap plastic windows typical of low rent bars.

It's like a divey stained glass window, and through its prism Vincent truly resembles a Saint.


Anonymous said...

I really wanted to see this movie just because it looked like a lot of fun . . . or at least like Murray got to have a lot of fun in it. Nice perspective, Nick! Sounds interesting, definitely, although certainly not a perfect movie.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, not perfect. And that's ok. It still lets Bill Murray do what he does.