Bill Murray in St Vincent

There are great films, and there are great performances. The latter can fuel the former, but the latter should never be confused with the former. ST. VINCENT is a great performance in a good movie.

The story of ST. VINCENT revolves around Vince McKenna (Bill Murray at his crusty best). Vince is a drinking, smoking, swearing, gambling scoundrel. When he’s not fending off loan sharks, or conning his way into one more drink on his tab, he’s canoodling with a Russian prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts). Daka is still plying her trade despite being quite pregnant.

Stepping right in to the path of Hurricane Vincent is Maggie (Megan McCarthy) and her son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie is suddenly a single mum trying to pick up the pieces after a failed marriage. Oliver is an underweight misfit at his new Catholic elementary schhol…an underweight misfit who still needs to be looked after.This necessity leads to Vincent being hired as Oliver’s babysitter; picking him up after school, minding him, and feeding him if need be.

Unbeknownst to Maggie, putting Oliver in the care of Vincent will give him a round of life-lessons they don’t certainly don’t teach in Catholic school.

At this stage of his career, Bill Murray is less an actor and more a force-of-nature. He is able to find both the manic and the melancholic with such ease, he brings to mind visions of LeBron James hitting free throws. What he’s doing take skill and concentration, but he makes it all seem so damned easy that you end up feeling like anybody could do it. But of course, that isn’t true. Only Bill Murray can make singing in a rickety lawn chair look poetic. Only Bill Murray can threaten children with a tire iron and not look like a psycho. Only Bill Murray can make you think he’s conning a retirement community, only to reveal his true intentions as something far more noble.

But to balance the bitter, you need some sweet. To set-up a punchline, you need a straight man. To this end, the film likewise benefits from young Lieberher as the curious and noble Oliver. A role like this begs for a precocious actor to be cast, and the way Lieberher rises above this allows the film to succeed where lesser films have failed. He is not so wide-eyed that he can’t see Vincent’s flaws for what they are, but he’s curious to learn the sorts of lessons a responsible adult wouldn’t dare teach him.

There are things in life we all need to understand by a certain age – how to calculate the odds, how to stand up for ourselves – but most of the time we need to piece these things together without the guidance of a grown-up. Seeing Murray teach lessons without hesitation is one thing, but it works as well as it does when we watch Lieberher eagerly soak them up.

ST. VINCENT doesn’t completely rise above the tropes of its formula to bring something new to the table, but it so so sharply written and surprisingly genuine that we don’t care. It’s an excuse to watch Bill Murray do what he does best, and that’s always a great reason to go to the cinema.

Hell, when Eric Clapton picks up a guitar, you seldom care what he chooses to play.