Small movies with big hearts are the best of all. Big movies with big imaginations can be fantastic (Interstellar) or not fantastic (Tomorrowland), and they make us dream and wonder, but the St. Vincents of the world find joy in our mundane existences, which is the most redeeming thing of all. Theodore Melfi’s film trudges from the bar to the racetrack to the crowded houses of lower middle class Brooklyn without letting any of its characters escape. Within this world, seemingly taking far more from than it gives to its inhabitants, there lies room for happiness through “saintly” behavior.
Getting to that point of banal joy comes thanks to standout performances by a bevy of performers stepping outside their comfort zones. Melissa McCarthy is wonderful as a newly single mother doing everything she can to keep her Oliver cared for, and Naomi Watts is hilarious as a Russian stripper (Yes, you read that right.). Scott Adsit (Pete from 30 Rock) even plays a a bad guy. Then there’s Chris O’Dowd, doing his thing, playing the type of plush sharp-witted teacher that only exists in fiction.
These folks are all great, but the stars of the show are Bill Murray and newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, perhaps the oddest couple you’ve ever seen but also the most endearing. Murray has played curmudgeons plenty of times, and it’s impossible to not see a little bit of Herman Blume (Murray’s Rushmore character) in Vincent’s eccentricity, though this time around Murray gets to be meaner and wield a questionable accent. Lieberher’s Oliver’s precociousness also brings back memories of Rushmore, though he comes off as far more secure and far less whiny than Max Fischer. Lieberher is new to the acting game but seems capable of sticking around for a long time. He absorbs and responds to every wonderful Murray moment, grounding Vincent in the world from which he strives so hard to detach. Oliver befriends bullies, heals a family, brings me to tears, and makes a saint out of a godless man.
Murray’s Vincent is a sad and complex man. The film never digs too deep into his darkness — that would not be nearly as fun — but it breaches the surface, just far enough to necessitate Oliver’s infusion of light. Oliver and Vincent’s playdates are side-splitting and inappropriate, though the beauty of the movie lies in the fact Vincent doesn’t need them — and the betting and drinking and so on — after spending time with the young ball of hope. Simple and sweet but also endlessly human, St. Vincent is a treasure of a film, sadly only discovered by some lucky folks. Bill Murray is good in everything and could be good in anything. Here he is his wonderful self. What takes the movie to the next level is his supporting cast, littered with familiar faces and one that will be someday, hopefully in the not too distant future.