ST VINCENT: Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts, Scott Adsit. Directed by Ted Melfi. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, sex scene and coarse language). Running time: 102 minutes
By John Mulderig
AN unlikely babysitter also serves as an unusual image of sanctity in the fundamentally endearing drama St Vincent.
While writer-director Ted Melfi’s feature debut has a broadly appealing message, aspects of its main character’s dodgy lifestyle narrow the scope of its appropriate audience.
The film’s approach to moral questions, moreover, requires mature reflection.
Bill Murray is pitch-perfect as Vincent, a hard-drinking, curmudgeonly loner shambling his way through life, cutting ethical corners at every opportunity.
When Vincent acquires a new next-door neighbour in the person of recently divorced single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), the two take an instant dislike to each other.
But, with no one else available to mind her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school, hardworking hospital lab technician Maggie is forced to turn to Vincent to do the job.
Since Vincent is an inveterate gambler in serious debt to, among others, loan shark Zucko (Terrence Howard), he agrees to the arrangement.
Vincent and Oliver bond over adventures at the racetrack, stints in Vincent’s favourite dive bar – where Oliver drinks soda, of course – as well as during visits to Vincent’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell).
Sandy lives in a luxurious nursing home whose costly rates clearly eat up most of Vincent’s scant income.
Former boxer Vincent also teaches Oliver, whose small stature and lack of self-defence skills lead to his being bullied, how to stand up for himself.
Increasingly, Oliver learns to look past his gruff caregiver’s obvious flaws and see the hidden goodness within him.
Catholic viewers will especially appreciate the thoroughly positive portrayal of Oliver’s funny, patient and wise parochial school teacher, Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd).
The film’s title derives from a project Br Geraghty assigns his students – to research someone in their lives who displays saintly qualities.
The script makes a valid point by reminding us that even saints aren’t perfect during their lives here on earth.
Yet its unabashed celebration of Vincent’s positive qualities – and the pass it gives to his self-destructive habits and small-scale misdeeds – have to be scrutinised within the context of the Gospel imperative commanding us to eliminate sin from our lives entirely.
This is especially true of Vincent’s relationship with Russian-born prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts).
With Daka pregnant by an unknown father, her link with Vincent eventually evolves into a glumly chaste friendship, and he provides shelter both for her and the baby.
But, while one can sympathise with the plight that led to their original connection, its sordid and exploitative nature can’t be overlooked.
Just how much is excusable in a person who is, at heart, unusually nurturing and generous?
Moviegoers well grounded in their faith will know how to apply the holistic vision of Scripture to that issue, taking as their starting point, perhaps, St Peter’s comforting assertion that “love covers a multitude of sins”.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.