By Brooke Schmidt
“St. Vincent” follows a young boy named Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) as he befriends his vulgar, older neighbor Vincent (the remarkable Bill Murray), learning many life lessons along the way. While the premise sounds like a cheesy, feel-good film, “St. Vincent” contains deeper layers than advertised and has critics speculating a future Oscar nomination for Murray.
Even when Vincent does despicable acts, such as taking young Oliver to a bar or introducing him to a prostitute (Naomi Watts), the audience cannot help but sympathize and care for him. For every single bad action or yelled curse word, there is another equally beautiful action. When Vincent reveals that he has a wife with Alzheimer’s, whom he visits every week under the guise of being her doctor and doing her laundry, the hearts of audience members collectively break.
Nobody else but Murray could pull off such blurred lines in such a lighthearted way. Murray shines in the second half of the film when, recovering from a stroke, Vincent must re-learn how to speak and perform normal activities. He is bitter but helped along the way by everyone around him because they see him for what he truly is: a modern-day saint.
Young Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver) and Murray have incredible chemistry in every scene they share. One scene in particular stands out: When Oliver enrolls as a new student in Catholic school, he is constantly picked on by bullies. After seeing the harassment in action, Vincent teaches Oliver to fight for the next time the bigger kids attack him. As a result of a rousing game of dodgeball, Oliver’s nose bleeds after the bigger kid pelts a ball at his face. He lets out a wild yell and attacks the bully with the move Vincent taught him, and a look of pride shines on his face.
Lieberher acts with finesse, something very difficult for today’s child actors. In fact, he acts better than many of the current teenage actors trying to get their footing in the industry.
All aspects of “St. Vincent” give reason for the Oscar buzz around the film. For a feel-good film, the cinematography is on point with soft hues and seamless coloring. The supporting cast of Naomi Watts as Vincent’s prostitute and Melissa McCarthy as Oliver’s mother enhance the story, as well. They act beautifully in roles different from anything audiences have seen them in before, which makes the film more of a treat.
While every film is flawed, “St. Vincent” masks its faults by putting beauty, heartbreak and joy at the center of the film. Any awkward moments are quickly superseded by the nearly perfect scenes that follow. Having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, many are saying that this could be Murray’s second Oscar nomination and that “St. Vincent” is his best film in a decade. However, the question is whether the Oscar buzz will have any merit. Audiences worldwide will have to wait until January to find out.