Friday, March 18, 2016

St. Vincent

Year 8, Day 77 - 3/17/16 - Movie #2,278

BEFORE:  The end of the Melissa McCarthy sequence is also the start of a Bill Murray sequence, that's just how these things tend to go.  Once I saw the opportunity to tie this film's title in with St. Patrick's Day, I knew it had to go here.  Especially since I don't have anything blatantly Irish left on the list.

THE PLOT: A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.

AFTER: This feels like a film that would have done very well at film festivals (Yep, it won awards at the Aspen Filmfest, Chicago International and Toronto International) because it's got that sort of dark outlook, but wrapped around a sweet center, with just enough crunchy coconut on top.  It hits all of the right notes for an indie film that you expect to see at festivals, in that it's not about spies or superheroes saving the world, it's just a slice-of-life portrait of people trying to make the best of things, muddling through life and weathering all of the challenges.  See also: "Everything Must Go", "Boyhood", "Away We Go", "Trees Lounge", "Sunshine Cleaning", "Little Miss Sunshine", etc. 

My instinct to program this for St. Patrick's Day proved to be spot on.  The film centers on Oliver, a young boy who's just transferred to a Catholic school in Queens, NY, even though he may be Jewish (he's not sure...but isn't there someone he can ask?) and soon after, the class begins studying what it means to be a saint.  And the name of the school?  Wait for it...St. Patrick's!  

A homework assignment late in the film tasks the young boy to investigate someone he knows, or someone in the news, to determine if they meet the qualifications for sainthood, on an every-day level.  Namely, do they take care of other people's needs before their own, do they sacrifice for others and do they work for promoting peace in the world.   For some reason, Oliver selects to profile his next-door neighbor, who watches him for a few hours after school while his mother works, even though Vincent takes him to bars, strip clubs and the racetrack.  Oh, and Vincent is a long-term client of a Russian prostitute/stripper, is deep in gambling debt with a negative balance at the bank, and is generally rude and angry at the world.  

But hey, he loves his cat, so he can't be all bad.  We later learn Vincent has a wife with Alzheimer's who he visits frequently, and of course this goes a long way toward humanizing him.  Other setbacks happen which make us want to root for him, and of course, you can't go wrong if you cast Bill Murray in a role like this.   I recently watched part of "Larger Than Life", late at night when my main movie had ended, and I had it on in the background while scanning the next day's programming for new material.  I hadn't seen that film since 1996, and mostly it's about Bill Murray's character trying to get across the country with an elephant, and everything goes wrong.  Silly movie, perhaps, but if you're looking for someone to be down on his luck, in a situation that's spiraling out of control who can STILL be funny, Murray's your man.  W.C. Fields once said about acting, "Never work with animals or children", but Bill Murray didn't seem to heed that advice.  

What's cute is the justification here for bad behavior.  Taking a kid to the racetrack?  Well, he learned about playing the odds, so that's math.  Paying the kid to mow the (non-existent) lawn?  Economics.  The strip club?  Biology.  And the bar is Social Studies, I suppose.   

Also starring Bill Murray (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Naomi Watts (last seen in "Mulholland Dr."), Jaeden Lieberher, Chris O'Dowd (last seen in "Friends With Kids"), Terrence Howard (last seen in "Prisoners"), Kimberly Quinn, Lenny Venito (last seen in "Rounders"), Ann Dowd (last seen in "Apt Pupil"), Donna Mitchell, Dario Barosso, with cameos from Nate Corddry (last seen in "Girl Most Likely"), Scott Adsit (last heard in "Big Hero 6"), Reg. E. Cathey.

RATING: 6 out of 10 CAT scans

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