Friday, December 26, 2014

Film Review: St. Vincent

My biggest problem with the movie is a semantic and theological one.  It has to do with the word "Saint."

St. Vincent centers on Vincent (Bill Murray) who appears to be an amalgam from Jack Nicholson's character from As Good As It Gets and the old man from Up.  He drinks too much, gambles too much, frequents a pregnant prostitute/stripper (Naomi Watts) and has the worst disposition of anyone you could meet.  Then recently divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in with her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  Through movie-type circumstances, Maggie gets Vincent to be a babysitter for Oliver.  And since Vincent needs the money, he agrees.

What follows are some funny and mildly inappropriate sequences.  But the movie slowly peals back the layers on Vincent.  And it it is in these moments that the movie works best.  The movie is about looking past the surface and finding the true core of a person, even one that seems irredeemably irredeemable.  Oliver, lacking a male father-figure, latches onto Vincent.  And slowly Vincent finds himself caught up in the frustrating joy of having a kid around.

This is one of Murray's best performances in years.  One of his best attributes as an actor is his subtlety (which might sound strange if you primarily know him from Caddyshack).  But he restrains his emotions incredibly and director Theodore Melfi is completely in sync with this.  They would rather hint that show you things outright.  There is a moment part way through the movie where Murray was able to devastate me with a short, subtle look.  McCarthy and Liberher are also up for the challenge.  They bring both comedy and pathos to their parts.  Watts plays her Russian accent a bit thick, but she is serviceable in the role.

Of course this subtlety is also part of the movie's weakness.  The film makers go to great lengths to avoid sentiment, primarily making Vincent so rough.  But, in my humble opinion, there comes a time to break down the walls and let the emotion flow.  As was said in the movie Inception, "We all long for catharsis."  Depending on your taste, you may find this restraint refreshing or frustrating.  I felt the latter.

Oliver goes to a Catholic school and I was impressed that the movie did not fall into cheap stereotypes about priests and religion.  Chris O'Dowd as Br. Geraghty was a nice, kind, patient, and funny man of the cloth.  When teaching in a multi-fatih classroom he was very open, but was clear to say "Catholics are the best… because we have the most rules!"

And it is through this Catholic school that the idea of saints are raised.

The movie is called St. Vincent because the theme is that saints are real people, not just people in a book.  And saints are human, with human flaws.  And ultimately if you look at all the good the Vincent does, even sometimes against his own will, he is actually a saint.

Overall, I think there is merit in the theme.  Pope Francis is constantly calling us to look beyond the obvious and see the good in those about whom we do not always see it.  Vincent does a lot of good that does not go noticed or appreciated.  And recognizing his goodness is a worthy idea.

But he is NOT a saint.  It irritates me as a Catholic that sainthood should be confused like this.  To be sure the word has been used differently in history.  But the common understanding today is that a saint is someone of heroic grace and virtue who dedicated their lives to God and are role models.

The problem with Vincent as a saint is that even though he does good, he also does evil.  As said above, he commits sin constantly.  And we are not talking venial imperfections either but biggies like adultery.

To be sure Vincent grows as a person, especially morally.  And the good things he does should be admired.  But sainthood is not about the good outweighing the bad.  Sainthood is about a complete surrender to the grace of God.

But other than this confusion, the movie is not bad.  There is a lot of suggestiveness and swearing, but this done for effect, to challenge us to look past the repulsive and see the child of God underneath.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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