A saint is a person we celebrate for the sacrifices that they make

A saint is a person we celebrate for the sacrifices that they make

“To err is human”…that’s what they say, isn’t it? That it is in our very nature to screw up and mis a step or two along the path we walk? It’s in all of us, and difficult to fight back against, be it having a few drinks too many…or missing a golden opportunity. It’s in us to screw-up now and then, so what matters when we are judged is the balance of our virtues against our flaws. How much does our intent count in our favour, and how much should our mistakes be held against us?

After all, to forgive is divine…perhaps even saintly.

ST. VINCENT is the story of Vincent McKenna (Bill Murray). Vincent is a man who sits alone in a bar on a Tuesday afternoon, adding doubles of scotch to his tab and telling blue jokes to the bartender. When he’s not doing that, he’s ducking bookies who we get the impression he owes vast sums of money to. We’re never quite clear how Vincent earns a living, however we know it has something to do with a Russian prostitute he pals around with named Daka (Naomi Watts). Check that: a visibly pregnant Russian prostitute. He might be her low-grade pimp, but it’s never completely clear. What is clear is that he cares about Daka, and that she’s one of the few people in this world that he does care about.

One day, Vincent gets new neighbours in the form of Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). They move into the house next door to Vincent’s and get an unceremonious introduction when their moving truck rips off a chunk of the tree in his yard. The impromptu introduction is actually a bit fortunate, because Maggie is putting in a crazy amount of hours at a new job. She needs all the help she can get, and eventually agrees to employ Vincent as a de-facto babysitter for Oliver after-school.

The unforeseen benefit of this is that it allows Oliver a mentor as he tries to fit in at a new school. What better way to avoid being bullied, and learn how to speak-up in class than have a broke, drunken, malcontent show you the way. Thus, it becomes Vincent’s task to show Oliver the ways of the world; How to work, how to fight, how to dance, how to drink, how to bet, and how to run.

Y’know – the basics.

Murray and Lieberher

As we watch Vincent McKenna guide young Oliver, we remember that not everybody is “parenting material”. Some of us just don’t see the potential damage that can be done, and how we might be warping a young mind. However, upon further reflection, these sorts of things can happen by people who act far more “appropriately” than Vincent does. There are parents who mess up their children by being at work too long, by being too protective on the playground, or by not seeing the troubles their children are going through. Vincent is – at the very least – present for Oliver. He is teaching him in ways that may not be textbook, but will serve him well as he gets older.

So while Vincent isn’t “parenting material”, he is a surprisingly good father figure.

Much of what makes ST VINCENT work hangs on Bill Murray. He embodies Down-and-out in a really wonderful way – a way that makes you both pity and admire him. He leads you to wonder just how a man comes to spend his days running laps between the bar and the racetrack. To get there, Bill gets crusty in a way we haven’t yet seen from him, and yet we believe we have. He wears his hair greasy and his clothes rumpled, and seemingly sweats scotch whiskey. Through it all though, he looks t us with those soulful eyes, and makes us want to slide down to his end of the bar so we can buy him a drink…and he can tell us a story.

It’s hard to get “charming boozehound” right, but wow, does Bill ever get it right.

ST VINCENT approaches the extraordinary when we dig deeper into a subplot surrounding Vince and his visits to an old age home. In this moment, the film seems to take a certain level of pride in messing with our preconceptions of this grump that we’ve spent so much time with already. That tingly feeling at the back of your neck when the truth is revealed? That’s guilt. It underscores the movie’s theory that we really don’t know the people around us as well as we think we do. To us, they might seem like broken-down, untrustworthy slobs…but how did they get to this point? Who were they before we drifted into their orbit? Our preconceptions might be hard to shake, but perhaps finding a way past them is what allows us to be better people.

However, before we can forgive a flaw, we must first identify a flaw – and ST VINCENT does indeed have one. Its flaw is that it seems content to paddle around int the shallow-end, when it could have been so much greater in deeper waters. When we watch Vincent become a father-figure for Oliver, we get a sense that we know exactly where the story is going…and we’re right. The film’s third act becomes familiar, a little overly sweet, and doesn’t seem to do enough to paint a clear picture of Vincent McKenna.

That’s the flaw, and indeed we do forgive it. We forgive it because the story just brings so much good into our lives. It believes in fellowship, friendship, and family…virtues that are eroding in an increasingly selfish world. We forgive it because it is filled with so much joy and love from people who should be too busy trying to make ends meet to spare any joy or love. Most of all though, we forgive it because it has the smarts to pass Murray the ball and immediately clear the side. Perhaps in doing this – in avoiding trying to do too much – the film sacrifices being something great for the hopes of being something very good. And it is – very very good.

To flaw is human; to sacrifice is divine.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on ST. VINCENT.