A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

St. Vincent

Make no mistake: Vincent MacKenna is a cheat, liar, and thief who smokes, drinks and gambles. Don’t take my word for it: these are the words that come out of the mouth of the babe who nominates him for sainthood. Go figure!

To be fair, a lot has happened in Vincent’s life which brought him to this stage. A Vietnam veteran who saw a lot of action, he battles addictions to alcohol and gambling, the latter nearly costs him his health (such as it is) at the hands of an impatient bookie. No one would mistake him for being a lovable curmudgeon. Gruff and cantankerous, Vincent does have a soft spot for an elderly woman, Sandy, passing himself off as her doctor when he visits her in an assisted living facility.

Into all of this enters a mother trying to rebuild her life post-divorce. She is accompanied by a young boy - the previously mentioned babe. An awkward first meeting with her new neighbor, Vincent, leads somewhat circuitously to his becoming the child’s after school sitter. Eventually, Vincent will also become the boy’s mentor in street smarts.

At first hesitant, Vincent eventually warms to this chance assignment. Besides, he needs the money. A retiree always in need of money, Vincent is turned down for a bank loan with a shrug and the classic salutation to resignation: “It is what it is.” Aside from the booze and gambling, Vincent is also in hock to Daka, his lady of the evening friend who advises that her services are no longer available on lay away. And, oh yes, she is a pregnant lady of the evening also needing additional income when she is bounced from her job as a stripper.

The young boy, Oliver, is both naïve and yet wise beyond his years. When Vincent claims that the brain is the most important human organ, Oliver points to his own heart. His parochial school education — where he learns values which his teacher/priest would have you believe are exclusive property of the Roman Catholic Church — is countered by Vincent’s after school lessons. 

There is the lesson of instant gratification: a trip to the horse racetrack. There is the lesson of hard work for the sake of hard work: mowing a yard that is totally devoid of grass. There is the lesson of learning who Abbott and Costello were…and so on.

There are a small victories along the way — Oliver stands up to a school bully, Sandy comes out of her dementia long enough to recognize that the doctor is actually her husband, Vincent, and there is a very nice, profitable day at the racetrack — but by the time this story ends, everyone loses something and accept the life lessons of compromise. Life is what it is, you know.

St. Vincent has all the makings of a made-for-tv Hallmark channel presentation. It can be sappy at times, and veers close to cliché at other times. Taking a young impressionable child to the racetrack as a plot device?   Doesn’t that go all the way back to Damon Runyon? No matter, the ends justifies the means, even if Vincent has to put the racing form to his forehead for divine guidance in picking his horses.

There are great performances from the entire cast. Bill Murray submerges his classic comic persona and allows Vincent’s complex character flaws to surface and wallow in the fresh (?) air of Long Island. The role could have been another classic turn by Jack Nicholson (think As Good As It Gets),  but Murray rises to the challenge, whether he is giving garage lessons in self defense to Oliver (serious Murray) or trying to keep up with Bob Dylan singing ”Shelter from the Storm” (clown Murray).

Melissa McCarthy leaves her fat girl shtick behind in her portrayal of Maggie,  the mother trying to juggle her long hour career with raising Oliver (and perhaps Vincent) while fending off her philandering husband's custody overtures. Her role is one too many people can relate: vulnerable in a chaotic situation with a growing toughness that will serve her well. Chris O’Dowd also does well as Oliver’s parochial school teacher, Brother Geraghty, as he oversees a melting pot of different religions and ethnics in his class. On the adult side, the melting pot is represented by Vincent’s lady of the evening friend, Daka, portrayed by Naomi Watts with a thick Russian accent. 

Jaeden Lieberher plays Oliver wonderfully in his feature film debut. Another role to which nearly everyone can relate: bullied and stolen from at school, Oliver learns the tricks of maturing in the street very quickly. A moment of complete drama (and the first signs of Vincent’s redemption) happens when the older man teaches his young charge that taking advantage of a candy machine is (technically) stealing. Oliver absorbs all of his lessons while retaining just enough innocence to remember that the heart is most important.

We should have a moment of silence and praise St. Vincent. We should hold our copies of the racing form to our foreheads and pray that this gem is not forgotten in the coming awards season. 

(Thank you for reading. And now Bob Dylan will sing music to water your bare yard by…) 


Blogger Raybeard said...

It doesn't sound like the sort of film I'd normally take to, theme-wise - among them your description of the 'Oliver' role, which makes me want to groan, especially seeing that even now he's only 11. However, your emphatic recommendation tips it in my favour.
No sign here of a release date but watch out for it I shall. Thanks.

October 31, 2014 at 3:41 AM  
Blogger Raybeard said...

Saw the trailer for it yesterday, first time.

November 1, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go see this great movie. The entire cast is there and present for the telling of a powerfully told story
about how we survive as as neighbors when real life presents challenges.

November 2, 2014 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thank you, Raybeard. I think you will enjoy it.

November 6, 2014 at 6:40 PM  

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