I KEEP EXPECTING the internet to go gaga for the St. Vincent trailers—featuring Bill Murray teaching a little kid to toughen up, or Murray, sitting in his lawn chair, wearing his giant old man glasses and not giving a fuck—the way the internet goes nuts for stories about Murray crashing karaoke bars and Brooklyn house parties. Instead, I've been seeing a lot of: "Aw, but it looks so contrived!"
Thing is, St. Vincent is contrived. It's contrived in the best way. I'll put it this way: Do you want to watch Bill Murray act like a sarcastic prick, but secretly have a heart of gold? Do you want him to have an unorthodox-yet-rewarding relationship with a precocious young boy like all the best parts of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bad Santa, and Bad Words? Do you want these adversarial relationships eventually to lead to understanding? Yeah, St. Vincent is about as procedural of a feel-good Sundance comedy as Law & Order: SVU is a cop show—but when the dialogue is sharp and the acting is perfect, that's a pretty damned fine thing to watch.
Murray plays Vincent SomethingIrishOrPolish, a grouchy, get-off-my-lawnian retiree. Recent divorcee Melissa McCarthy moves in next door with her adult-in-miniature son, Oliver, played by Jaeden Lieberher, whose parents should receive at least a fierce noogie for trying to come up with a unique spelling of "Jaden." Murray and the boy strike up a friendship and buppity buppa buh. None of this would work if Bill Murray weren't so good at playing glib—he's basically a human Garfield in this—and Lieberher (is it just me or does that name sound like a stutter?) weren't so effective as the articulate youth. Aw, he's just like how I saw myself as a kid, and he gets to be best friends with Bill Murray!
"I'm small, if you haven't noticed," Lieberher's character tells Murray's, upon receiving some kind of toughen-up-kid speech.
"Yeah, well so was Hitler," Murray deadpans.
If you don't appreciate little gems of dialogue like that one, you probably won't like St. Vincent, which is basically a 100-minute excuse for them. In addition to Murray as Grumpy Garfield and Jaeden Terribleparents as his pet boy, McCarthy turns out to be so much more enjoyable when she's playing it straight. She has such a talent for finding the beats within a scene, it's frustrating that in most of her movies she's tasked with jumping outside of it, doing the robot in a parking lot or farting on pies or whatever. This role draws on her true skill. Likewise perfectly cast is Oliver's teacher at Catholic school, Chris O'Dowd, who was born to play a put-upon priest. As quirkily glibbity glib as it is, there's just the right amount of social commentary to Oliver whispering, "I think I'm Jewish," when asked to read the morning prayer.
Naomi Watts even does a decent job playing Murray's pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend, a character that feels like it was a trying-too-hard disaster on paper. The only component that doesn't work is Dario Barosso, as Oliver's tormenter-cum-best-friend Ocinski. Okay, dial back the schmaltz a little, guys, everyone doesn't need to be pals.
Sure, St. Vincent is overly broad and feels a little like every Sundance comedy ever made, but it also works. It's Bill Murray's School of Rock moment—his chance to play the crotchety, rumpled sweetheart everyone thinks he is, alongside the preternaturally adult child we all think we were. It's bullshit, sure, but it's the best kind of bullshit, the kind of bullshit that makes us all secretly okay with being bullshitted.