Apparently a new film pet peeve of mine has recently appeared: Films that keep the motives and reasons for why a character is a terrible person a secret until the last ten minutes of runtime.
Seriously, this happened with “The Judge” and it pissed me off. For two and a half hours, we’re in the dark about why Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall hate each other, when they should have no reason to despise the other. This could be solved with Downey Jr. (or even his daughter) asking the question, “Dad, why are you being such a grouch to me?”
But no, we have to build up the drama and pile on the hate in the movie, because audiences love it when family members despise one another and don’t want to be around them and blame all their problems in the world on your siblings attempting to do the right thing, right?
Oh wait, no. That just sounds stupid and hateful for no good reason.
I bring this up because it has happened once again with the newest Bill Murray movie, “St. Vincent.” Much like “The Judge,” the film attempts to play to its lead actors strengths and gets lost along the way in its cliché, predictable and unimaginative story. Unlike “The Judge” though, “St. Vincent” does not give its lead actor enough room to breath and let him do his own thing.
Vincent (Bill Murray) sure leads a charmed life. He lives out of a small, broken down house in Brooklyn and constantly runs over his own fence. He drinks, smokes, gambles, swears like a sailor, has constant sex with a pregnant prostitute (Naomi Watts), and always seems to owe somebody money that he never has. Things change though when a new neighbor moves in and the mother (Melissa McCarthy) is constantly working, so Vincent has to reluctantly babysit her wimpy son.
So right off the bat, we know Vincent is a terrible human being. He is only interested in himself and would choose a world without other people if he could. Why is he like this? Until the last few minutes of the movie, this goes unexplained and unasked. He is just a grumpy angry old man because the script says so.
Story-Telling 101: If you’re going to make your character an unlikable and terrible person, especially if he is your main character, you must tell us why he is like that and why we should care about a guy like this. As soon as possible. Do not hide character traits and backstory just for the sake of being dramatic.
“St. Vincent” meanders around as Vincent and the boy bond over adult activities and the kid toughens up. This would be fine if we got plenty of laughs and Bill Murray’s brand of dry yet witty humor, but there is a distinct lack of that. Murray does just fine the material that is given to him, but it’s obvious that he is reading from a script, and is not given room to improv and do what feels natural to him. That’s what made films like “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” so enjoyable and why we all love Bill Murray.
Not to mention the film would rather be depressing and sad instead of funny and uplifting. Every character has several tragic events happen to them, including the boy getting beat up and having his keys and wallet stolen, Melissa McCarthy’s character crying while explaining why she moved away from her husband and her job at the hospital and Vincent’s struggle to help an old woman in a retirement home.
None of this is helped by the lack of good comedy throughout the film. You’d think with two comedic talents in Murray and McCarthy, there would be some funny moments. But as I’m writing this, I can’t recall many moments that made me laugh. The sad moments stick out more than the funny ones. That is truly sad.
Overall, “St. Vincent” was a depressing snore that does not utilize that talented actors and actresses at its disposal. It is manipulative, far too sad for its own good, unfunny and predictable. The film starts to get better once we learn why Vincent is such an asshole, but it is too little too late. If you love Bill Murray, just watch “Groundhog Day” and you’ll get a funnier and more worthwhile experience out of it.
Final Grade: F+
Categories: Movie Reviews