Saturday, October 25, 2014
St. Vincent Overcomes Movie Conventions with Solid Writing and Subtle Character Studies. One of the Top 5 Best Movies This Year.
On the surface St.Vincent as a movie should not work. It is full of movie conventions. You have the old curmudgeon, the overly wise kid, the mom done wrong by a man and starting over and the prostitute / stripper who deep down inside has a heart that while it may not be made of gold is, at least, gold plated. St. Vincent works maybe for the things it doesn't have. There are no explosions. No protracted comic fights. No chase scenes. No histrionics really, of any kind. When characters have emotional high and lows they are handled in a real earnest way. Nothing is over the top. No hyper sense of reality here. And wonders among wonders, the people portrayed on the middle to lower economic rung don't live in a house or apartment that in reality would be well beyond their means.
The true brilliance of St.Vincent is that it proves that it is not the basic plot line (or twist on one) that is as important to the telling of a story as how well the characters that inhabit that story are written and writer / director Theodore Melfi has written characters that we care about and whom we can relate to. We have all known kids who seem to be wise beyond their year. We all know single mom's who struggle everyday to make that dollar while at the same time try to raise a kid or kids. And, unfortunately, we all have had tragedy befall us to only have a heaping of more hardship hit us when we are down.
The style of the movie can can feel a bit all over the place. Tonally parts of it feel like a 70's movie (think Bob Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces") and at other times it feels like a self conscious indie flick (think: more than one Wes Anderson movie) but the shifts don't feel so startling as to pull yourself out of the movie, in fact, some of the superb songs (especially those by Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy) seem to advance the story and draw out the emotional tugs just right. When the Bill Murray's character of Vincent comes to the aid of young Oliver (played wonderfully by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) who is being bullied and who he is "baby sitting" the scene (again) feels like a retread but the dialog is not. That dialog delivered by Murray (as only he can) elevates the scene. I could go on and on but it cannot be emphasized enough that Melfi has crafted a film built on words that contain truths and these emotional truths bond together the characters in this movie and those of us who are responsive to these emotional truths.
Besides Murray's perfectly balance performance, Melissa McCarthy proves that less is more. Like Robin Williams, she has always been able to give both broad and subtle comedic and dramatic performances that can touch you and make you laugh. In St. Vincent, she (like her character) feels like she is on that razor thin verge of laughing and crying. A great performance. The young actor Jaeden Lieberher in this, his debut movie outing, (without question) kills it. The true surprise for me is Naomi Watts as the Russian pregnant prostitute / stripper who doesn't let her baby bump slow her down. "Daka" makes Vincent seem politically correct. Watts provides the only true comic relief but still manages to imbue Daka with emotional depth. Chris O'Dowd plays the affable Catholic school teacher and every time he is on the screen you just wish you had a teacher like him growing up. Terrence Howard is not on the screen often but gives weight to his bad guy role.
St.Vincent is a must see. It is really a pleasure to see what some may call a rather unoriginal storyline told in such a uniquely endearing and ultimately original way. After all, most of our lives are not all that original but we as individuals are and we all have our own stories to tell full of tragedies and personal victories. This might be St.Vincent's most important lesson.