Truly, a superb first outing for director/writer Theodore Melfi, who brings a starry cast and a outstanding newcomer together to lovingly tell a funny yet painful and heartwarming story. It strides into place as one of the finest dramatic turns for Bill Murray and the plot is a sweet and sad one to watch develop.
A grouchy gambling vet called Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) with little to no money and a penchant for pregnant prostitutes; namely Daka (Naomi Watts), faces new neighbours one day in the form of Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As Maggie is so often busy at her hospital job, Vincent takes the opportunity to ‘babysit’ Oliver for money and in doing so they start an unlikely bond.
Now I could possibly see how some may not like this film, maybe in the eyes of foolish audiences expecting to see a through and through comedy vehicle for Murray to shine in, but he excels even if there isn’t tonnes of comedy, not a problem for me however. The other issue may lay in it turning into being very sentimental as the close nears, people might not like that kind of mushy change, I however find it fitting for the story being told.
The film takes a little while to get going as it brings our attention to how Vincent is as a person, this is all fine as Murray is a great man to watch sell the character but it is sort of general obvious flaws of humanity being told, i.e, drinking, gambling, moody indifference, subtle racism and bankruptcy. These characteristics are beyond stale I feel, but as the friendship between grouch and kid takes wing I quickly forgot about these niggle of cliches.
This movie has a great soundtrack, perhaps it manipulates slightly to making you feel fuzzy or making a scene more emotional but music does that and the songs chosen in this movie really compliment the action well, never overpowering but always being noticeable in a good way. This is sounding at the moment like I found the film a tad weak but I really didn’t, trust me. I liked the film, these ‘flaws’ as I may be describing them are just things that I’m finding that I think stop it from being as perfect as it could have been.
Theodore Melfi has done an exceptional thing for his debut film, the style is smooth and pitched with precision. The developments of the story may be ones that hit with power but it’s the development of the growing connection between Oliver and Vincent that comes to the fore. Light touches of comedy in their days out, paternal like guidance and slow motion bonding through dance are all used to make you utterly believe these two people get on.
Comedy is how the movie is advertised and it does have a healthy dose of funny lines but the way it deals with the darker side of life is nice to see and it struck me more than I expected. The title of the film is obviously alluding to the saint-ing of Vincent but it’s the journey to that honour that makes this movie a bittersweet treat to enjoy. There’s plenty of interesting background to make Vincent less than the cliched character he could have been…and so here you see how my earlier critique was just one viewpoint on a figure that has more to his past than you initially know.
Bill Murray deserves the praise he’s getting and I hope some nominations head his way because he is quite frankly incredible as Vincent. The snide and offish man is on point balancing with his forever brilliant comedic timing but it’s so fresh to see him take a lead with a dramatic edge to it and he immerses himself into the later trials of the character with solid tenacity. I am no stranger to my dislike of Melissa McCarthy but here she does a good job with Maggie and her emotional scenes are really great, hopefully she’ll stick to more films in this capacity and stray from her grotesque lairy stereotype. Jaeden Lieberher is an exciting introductory talent and his more innocent scrawny yet smart shtick opposite the grumpy Murray is a lovely case of opposing forces working as one. Naomi Watts is a lighter relief character playing the Eastern European lady of the night with a baby bump to boot.
It may slip into sentiment a little too much nearing the end but pushing that aside this film with a new director and young actor to its credit provides an exceptional platform for Bill Murray to thrive on. Heartstrings may be overly obviously pulled at in it’s ploy for tragic turn ups but I enjoyed the light and dramatic shades it had to offer.