TIFF 2014: St. Vincent Review

St-Vincent-Movie

Bill Murray in “St. Vincent”

I really hate unnecessary accents. A couple of years ago at TIFF 2012, I saw an indie movie called Arthur Newman starring Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. It was about Colin Firth’s character reinventing himself to become a – wait for it – “new man.” For some reason, the director required Firth and Blunt (both English actors, with great English accents) to speak with American accents. With other actors, this might not have been an issue, but Firth’s entire acting career and screen persona revolves around his English accent. Take that away to add an unnecessary American accent (why couldn’t he just be a ex-pat Londoner living in America?) and the result is a distracting and self-conscious performance as Firth struggled with pronunciation and enunciation. St. Vincent forces different accents on Bill Murray and Naomi Watts with similarly unsatisfying results.

Vincent (Murray) is a hard-drinking, misanthropic gambler who may have been the stand-in for Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. He’s gruff, speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent (completely stuttering Murray’s delivery), hates his neighbours, and disparages the Mexican movers who accidentally caused a tree branch to fall on his car. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) have just moved in next door. Maggie works long hours, and one day after school, Oliver is locked outside of his house. It may be time to mention that Oliver doesn’t currently have a male role model in his life, while his mother and father are going through an acrimonious divorce. Enter Vincent as the reluctant baby-sitter of Oliver in About A Boy: Elder Edition.    

Hijinks ensue as the older man takes the young boy under his wing. There’s the required bullying scene (where Oliver gets bullied by a group of thugs and Vincent steps in), the inappropriate self-defence training (where Vincent teaches Oliver how to break a bully’s nose), and the hi-larious visits to inappropriate locations (strip club,  gambling at the race track) where the audience cannot believe that juxtaposition between that crazy Vincent and innocent Oliver. Hyuk Hyuk. I think I’ve seen this movie before, it might have been called Bad Santa then. The movie also slips in a subplot reminiscent  of The Notebook, a quickly dropped subplot about gambling debts with a bookie played by Terrence Howard (! – also with a completely unnecessary accent), and an end-of-year school assembly where Oliver looks into the crowd hoping to see Vincent, in what is perhaps the most overused cliche in cinema history.    

Basically, St. Vincent is a hodge-podge mixture of better films, taking their ideas and mashing them together in some sort of dramatically underwhelming and bland stew. It’s the comfort food of cinema – some will like it because it’s similar enough to movies they’ve liked before and hits all the familiar dramatic beats we’ve come to expect (characters initially hate each other, come to a begrudging respect for one another, lose that respect when PLOT POINT occurs, and eventually reunite with a relationship stronger than before) but it’s ultimately mediocre and forgettable. This cast deserves better. 

Grade: C

Sidenote: Why do indie movies have to prove their “indie-ness” by developing eccentric supporting characters? This one has a character that’s a prostitute, but it’s not enough that she’s a prostitute – she has to be a Russian prostitute. And because the stereotypical Russian accent just isn’t bizzare enough, she has to be a pregnant Russian prostitute. Stop this, please. Write a character defined by their thoughts and feelings, not their adjectives. 

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