There seems to be a bit of a joke in the film industry nowadays that, to me, pertains solely to Robert Downey Jr and Bill Murray. The joke is that when these guys are cast in films, it’s because of who they are IRL, not what they can necessarily bring to a role. For instance, Robert Downey Jr. has been the same character in the last handful of films I’ve seen from him: The Judge, Iron Man, Zodiac (yeah shut up I only just saw it in October) etc. Casting directors hire RDJ to be RDJ, and I think a similar thing can be said for Bill Murray, with the vague exceptions of Lost in Translation and Ghostbusters (because in the 80s Bill Murray wasn’t quite Bill Murray, y’know?)
But there’s something to be said for his performance in St Vincent, a film in which he stars as a cantankerous old neighbour to Melissa McCarthy, who plays a woman in the midst of a messy divorce, and her 9-year old son Oliver (played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher.) When I read the synopsis of this film to my mother, I added “kind of like Gran Torino, but maybe funnier.” And I think that’s exactly what I got.
Murray and Lieberher dazzle as the odd coupling, with a chemistry that’s equal parts subtly and fiercely captivating. Individually too, both actors took flight. Going into this, I didn’t think I’d see much more from Murray than I usually do, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the role and his performance as Vin. Lieberher as Oliver was just gorgeous as a new kid in school dealing with a divorce, a new house, no friends and a weird neighbour. I think we’re going to see a lot more of this kid, and with a talent like his, I won’t be sad about it at all.
Sadly, McCarthy as the newly single mother was fairly shrug-worthy, though I do like seeing her in more serious roles from time to time. She has a heart that shines through in the right moments, but it’s definitely hard to shake off her comedy background, and I felt like I was waiting for a punchline where none was appropriate. Whether that’s my own thing to get over or not, I’m not sure. A notable mention goes to the lovely Naomi Watts, who entirely surprised me as pregnant Russian prostitute, Daka. Obviously, my immediate thought was why wasn’t a Russian actress cast, but Watts did well with an interesting, though perhaps vaguely pointless (?) role.
As typically goes with me, I did have a few a weepy moments, especially since quite a lot of the shenanigans dear old Vin gets up to are carbon copies of shenanigans my grandfather used to carry on with in his day. Having seen this film with my mum too, who also wept in some solidly moving scenes, I came out wondering what it would have been like to know him better when he was alive, and whether he could have taught me how to break a man’s nose with the heel of my palm, like Vin did for Oliver.
I’d dearly love for Murray to be nommed for an Oscar for this performance, but I’m not sure St. Vincent is the kind of movie to grab the Academy’s attention. We’ll see what happens I guess.
If you’re planning on seeing only one movie this holiday season, make sure it’s this one.