Wednesday, October 29, 2014
"St. Vincent": a grizzled veteran steps up to what he has to do, for others
The little dramatic comedy “St. Vincent” starts with a shot of a grizzled old man (Bill Murray) smoking, in bed. This is a character who is definitely not wholesome eye candy. Gradually we learn of his struggles: he was a Vietnam era hero, who bounced around, and now bets at Belmont trying to catch up with his debts (the “debt collector” is played by Terrence Howard from “Hustle and Flow”). His wife is in assisted living on a locked Alzheimer’s wing, and he lives in a messy Brooklyn rowhouse with a selfish cat that doesn’t particularly love him. (A pooch woudn’t fit in here.)
One day, a neighbor’s moving van knocks down a tree, damaging his antique car and property. He meets the neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single-mom nurse with a little boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) in a custody battle after a messy divorce. The interaction that follows practically compels Vincent to “babysit” for the boy most of the time, and play grandfather. Yes, he gets paid for it, and needs the money.
Vincent is the personification of street smarts, which he tries to teach Oliver, who is more likely to see someone like Mark Zuckerberg as a role model if only he gets the chance. His Catholic school teacher (Chris O’Dowd) will do the best he can.
The screenwriting (by director Theodore Melfi) piles on one catastrophe after another upon the major characters, which is what movie pundits say agents look for in screenplays. I rather disagree, and it gives the movie a hysterical quality – but after all, this is supposed to be a tragic-comedy.
I could say that this is a film about moral dilemma, about stepping up to do for others what you have to do. Sometimes, you "must". That idea occurs at the end, where Vincent is made a “saint or orphaned children” in a Catholic school ceremony. It seems like we forget that a lot of moral debate centers around making real sacrifices for others when we have to. For example, a lot of people who don’t have their own children wind up taking care of “OPC” (other people’s children), a point that can stir some resentment in me because I did not see myself as competitive enough to become a father. There is a line where Vincent says that some people are too self-absorbed to have children (a thought in Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle”). Maggie mentions that Oliver is adopted because as a wife she hadn't been able to have her own children. I play this card in the short story that ends my DADT-III book, the story being called “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, where family responsibility is imposed at the same time the world faces a calamity, but the protagonist (“me”) has gotten “what he wants” anyway.
The script mentions Sheepshead Bay a lot, but seems to be film in locations near the Verrazano Bridge. But Sheepshead was one of my favorite subway destinations within NYC when I lived there 1974-1978.
The official site is here. The Weinstein brothers were executive producers.
I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA. There was a fair daytime crowd, which applauded the movie at the end.
Wikipedia attribution link for Sheepshead Bay bridge, Brooklyn.