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St. Vincent

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Tim Wilson
St. Vincent
on Oct 24, 2014 at 5:12:29 pm

I actually saw this two weeks ago, thanks to my dear friends at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. I call them "dear friends" because I've never spoken to them in person, which is perhaps the most important part of what it means to be my friend.

Score: 10.2/10

The extra .2 is because two weeks later, I still can't think of a single thing wrong with this movie. Maybe I should make it a full 20/10 or something, but it's easily the best movie I've seen in a couple of years.

(I didn't mention when I wrote my comment about it two weeks ago that I was planning to see it THAT NIGHT. I've been buried at work, and that seemed a sure way to create some disaster that would keep me from actually going.)

FIRST, A WORD. Actually two words: "Emotionally Manipulative." I have seen this used as a negative in many reviews. Consider it an intelligence test. If a reviewer uses "Emotionally Manipulative" as a negative, they are an idiot of almost incalculable magnitude. They should not be allowed to drive or hold sharp objects.

That's because "Emotionally Manipulative" is the GENRE of the picture. Harried single mom, overwhelmed yet precocious only child, grumpy old guy who hates single mothers and precocious kids, but the kid really likes the grumpy old guy, etc etc etc.


Dude, no kidding. Complaining about St. Vincent being emotionally manipulative would be like saying, "Well, that Western was okay IF YOU LIKE HORSES AND HATS. And I HATE HORSES AND HATS." Or, "What's with all the car crashes in those Fast and Furious movies? They'd get a ticket if they drove that fast in real life." "That's not a romantic comedy. People who are in love really don't talk to each other like that."

Nobody has to like westerns, F&F movies, or romantic comedies. And even people who like those kinds of movies can say that this or that particular example of one is terrible. But complaining that they are EXACTLY what they are, and making THAT the primary basis of complaint: an idiot does this.

Only an idiot. Nobody else.

You know another emotionally manipulative movie? Schindler's List. Here's another. Gone With The Wind. Or City Lights. Dog Day Afternoon. Zero Dark Thirty. The Bridge On The Riever Kwai. Die Hard. It's almost impossible to name a movie that doesn't take at least one shortcut to emotional catharsis.

Ah, but none of those are in the GENRE of Emotional Manipulation. St. Vincent is smack dead center in the GENRE of Emotional Manipulation, so the only questions left before us are, is this is a GOOD example of Emotional Manipulation? Are the characters unique-ENOUGH variations on the types (single mom, precocious kid, grumpy old guy -- hey! Throw in "cheating ex," "unsympathetic boss" "schoolyard bully" and "kindly priest" for good measure!) that this feels fresh?

Then there are always the basics of any movie. Performance, pacing, light, color, music. Are the jokes funny? Are the serious parts serious? Does the highly unlikely shortcut to emotional pay off actually pay off?

See, you and I might disagree on whether this movie checks off all the boxes. That wouldn't make you an idiot. That would just make you wrong. Big difference. In practice. Perhaps not in practice, but certainly in theory, sure, a plenty big difference. I guess. Maybe.

But those are the boxes on the scorecard. Says so right at the top of the scorecard.


Because that would be like the horse- and hat-free version of a western or a crash-free version of Fast & Furious that was neither fast nor furious.

Now then....

This movie is in fact heartfelt and sincere. I know that cynical and heartless are the preferred mode in these parts, with bonus points for emotional or physical viciousness in circumstances where one can't have both.

But in fact, I laughed much, much harder and more often than I would have ever guessed from the trailer. I may not have laughed as much at a Bill Murray character since Kingpin. (What? 18 years ago!) As one would hope for from a movie in the genre of "Emotional Manipulation," The Thing That Makes Him So Gosh-Darned Grumpy is relatable, and yes, quite emotional.

Chris O'Dowd was the Irish cop in Bridesmaids, and here he plays an Irish priest/middle-school teacher. He's really adorable, and plays it with a respectful amount of charm and sass without giving the least doubt that he takes his job with appropriate gravity outside the classroom.

One of the best scenes along those lines is with the boy's mother, played to perfection by Melissa McCarthy. Hooray! A movie without pratfalls or spectacular profanity. No silly costumes, no extreme tics or zaniness of any sort. AN ACTUAL PERSON, who gets some of the best laughs (none at her expense), and some of the best emotional scenes, EXACTLY the kind of role I hoped this would be for her.

In fact, none of the laughs are at anyone's expense. The priest gets laughs because he's a funny guy, not because "priests are ridiculous." Grumpy guy says one grumpy thing about Melissa's weight, to which she testily replies, "Are we gonna go there?"...and then they don't!

That's the thing. None of the comedy is mean. None of it. Which I know may disqualify St. Vincent as a thing to even consider seeing. If you're looking for mean humor, or slapstick, or profanity, or fundamental disrespect of any sort, keep looking. It ain't here.

As for Bill Murray, well, he couldn't possibly be more perfect. This could well be his "We Should Have Given It To Him For Caddyshack or Lost In Translation" Oscar. I'd be shocked if it wasn't at least nominated.

I'll concede that at one point, he has occasion to speak out of the side of his mouth and reminds me of Carl Spackler, but otherwise, not a Bill Murray-ism in sight. It's an actual performance of an actual script... the genre of Emotional Manipulation. The NAME of the movie is SAINT Vincent....and Bill Murray PLAYS you think there MIGHT be something more to him than JUST grumpiness? MAYBE? Maybe just a LITTLE?

Well the answer is no. Not just a little. A LOT more to him than just his grumpiness. I will also concede that he could have been a lot less saintly in the end and still pay off the title, but whatever. I loved everything about his performance.

WAIT! I FORGOT THE GRUMPY BUT KINDLY PREGNANT RUSSIAN EXOTIC DANCER PLAYED BY...wait for it...NAOMI WATTS. I was absolutely dreading this going in -- why would you even write this character? And why would you cast Naomi Watts? -- but it made a bizarre kind of sense.

This is in fact An Indie Film, a genre which itself carries a certain number of genre conventions. One of those is Unexpectedly Hip Indie Music. Yep, got it in spades, with tracks from The National (INCREDIBLY powerful track - one of my favorite music-in-movie tracks in ages), Jeff Tweedy, some obscure hip-hop, and age-appropriate grumpy guy classics (One Toke Over The Line, White Rabbit, etc.).

There's a song playing over the closing credits that you can find listed on the soundtrack if you care to, but I'll refrain from mentioning it here. It also plays out in an unexpected way that I'd rather not talk about. Some of my reaction absolutely has to do with my own feelings about the song (one of my very favorites by anyone), but I got a little misty-eyed at the opening notes -- an absolutely perfect choice.

I'll note that The Weinstein Company has released this bit of the movie as an official video. Don't watch it yet. You'll think, "What the hey, this is ridiculous," because you have not yet been through the third act of the movie, after which it plays out the final reel of catharsis. NOW I watch it and love it. I can see why TWC would release it now -- it's VERY Bill Murray, if not quite full-on Murray-esque -- but if I'd seen it in advance, I'd probably have skipped the movie altogether, and that would have been a mistake.

As far as genres go, I'm obviously trying to write within the genre that one could only reasonably call "Scott Roberts." There is no other name for it. I've obviously failed by not including a clever fart reference, and by generally not being as smart or funny....

...but no kidding. Actual kindness is in short supply in movies these days, although, admittedly, most of it in most movies is more soft-headed than soft-hearted. I generally hate this kind of thing. No kidding. My twitter page has, written across the top, "Try to inspire me and I will block u." I really do hate inspirational stuff.

Fortunately, this isn't inspirational. And I'm not just giving it a good grade because it's sweet and it tries hard. This ain't Little League. You don't get a trophy for showing up and having a good attitude. It's smart, funny, well-put together, and doesn't waste a second of time. This is how it's done, friends.

And I call you friends because you don't talk to me in person. Much appreciated.


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Scott Roberts
Re: St. Vincent
on Oct 27, 2014 at 6:03:31 pm

[Tim Wilson] "FIRST, A WORD. Actually two words: "Emotionally Manipulative." I have seen this used as a negative in many reviews. Consider it an intelligence test. If a reviewer uses "Emotionally Manipulative" as a negative, they are an idiot of almost incalculable magnitude. They should not be allowed to drive or hold sharp objects."

I (think) I completely agree on your thoughts concerning emotional manipulation & St. Vincent. In general, it is acceptable to criticize a film for emotional manipulation. It can cheapen a movie, it can seem like an easy way out, it can be a desperate attempt for a lesser film to try and raise itself into something more than it is. However, in St. Vincent's case, it is absolutely the end game from the very beginning, so to not accept the eventual forced tugs on the heartstrings is the equivalent of walking into an Iron Man movie and not expecting a big, special effects showdown to occur at the end. It would be stupid. St. Vincent is most definitely in the emotional manipulation business, and it succeeds very well. Even after saying that, the third act of this film totally gave me a big lump in my throat, and had to fight really hard to not have tears spill out my increasingly watery eyes. Call it emotionally manipulative, call it the genre of the film itself; I call it exactly what I was hoping for from the movie. Getting watery eyes from an indie drama/comedy is the ideal conclusion, if they are able to do it right. It's what separates the forgettable ones from the memorable ones. Was the Skeleton Twins alright? Sure. Did it make me feel anything the first time? No. Do you think it will on any repeat viewings? Probably not. So, do you ever plan on watching it again? I don't see why I would, if I'm never going to get anything emotionally rewarding out of it. AND SO FORTH.

Some notes on the acting -

-Bill Murray did an amazing job of making what, in almost any other circumstance, would have been an Oscar bait performance seem more like a passion project than a cheap awards grab. Maybe it's just because he's a national treasure, or because he's so incredibly earnest and ballsy with everything he does, but I can't help but wish him all the awards he may or may not be trying to get. If it were some other famous old guy in the role, like Robert Duvall or John Voight or something, it would only be half as good of a movie.

-And even transcending Bill Murray the actor, his *character* of Vincent was a very well-developed, complex guy. The story provided enough backstory to not make it simply just a story of an old grumpy guy warming up to an innocent kid. That's been done before on a pure surface level, and it's not as good. I appreciated all the little touches.

-Melissa McCarthy can be a very good actress when she's not dancing in a parking lot with a fast food bag on her head.

-Chris O'Dowd is one of those guys who does the same schtick every movie, but it's an enjoyable schtick, so I don't mind. I'm not the kind of fan who grows tired of seeing things I like (see: Michael Cera, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, etc), and that's probably why I like more movies/TV shows than I hate.

-My only criteria for enjoying a child actor is that I don't want to shove him into the ground the whole movie, and the kid in St. Vincent was perfectly fine. I wasn't exactly impressed, but then again I rarely am by Hollywood kids. Not being annoyed by him is about the best compliment I can give in this department.

[Tim Wilson] "WAIT! I FORGOT THE GRUMPY BUT KINDLY PREGNANT RUSSIAN EXOTIC DANCER PLAYED BY...wait for it...NAOMI WATTS. I was absolutely dreading this going in -- why would you even write this character? And why would you cast Naomi Watts? -- but it made a bizarre kind of sense."

This was actually one of my big negatives of the film. I didn't really feel like the sassy stripper character herself brought much to the movie to begin with, but then multiply that by an awful Russian accent and it really brought things down for me. I don't care if that's how an actual Russian accent sounds, I will never *not* think it sounds horrible in a movie. And Naomi Watts did it so absurdly cartoonish that all I heard the whole time was "MOOSE AND SQUIRREL. MOOSE AND SQUIRREL". I thought it was a good script to begin with, and then the guy who wrote it decided he needed to ham it up to typical indie comedy levels and add this obnoxious cliche.

The only other negative I can really say is that the whole thing was fairly predictable. That's kind of to be expected as well for this genre of movies, but that doesn't make it any less adverse.

[Tim Wilson] "As far as genres go, I'm obviously trying to write within the genre that one could only reasonably call "Scott Roberts." There is no other name for it. I've obviously failed by not including a clever fart reference, and by generally not being as smart or funny...."

[squints eyes] [re-reads paragraph several times]

Hey, those fart jokes are meticulously crafted from years of experience of eating Panda Express and drinking Dr. Pepper. They're untouchable! ;)

I don't know, it's an enjoyable movie, there's no denying that. That's the best word for it. Enjoyable. It's not mind blowing, it hasn't changed the game in any way, but (aside from Naomi Watts' character) it's just an example of a movie that had most of its pieces fall into the right places. It's what other heartwarming indie comedies hope and strive to be. It was nearly perfectly executed for what it was, but what it was was just a pleasantly enjoyable little film. And because of that, I almost feel like I have a maximum score I'm willing to give it. Which would be about a 9. But I'll subtract a little for in Naomi Watt's KGB pole dancer, and and then I'll factor in Tim's 0.2 extra points because I enjoyed his review, and it comes in at an 8.7 out of 10

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Mark Suszko
Re: St. Vincent
on Nov 26, 2014 at 1:35:41 am

I got to see St. Vincent today. Funny how Scott Adsit (Big Hero 6) is in this as the bad dad but he hasn't got a single line of dialogue that I can recall.

The impression the movie left me with was something like a more dark and nihilistic version of "Uncle Buck", crossed with whiffs of "Grand Torino".

I enjoyed seeing Murray play a range here; I may be one of the few who saw and liked him in The Razor's Edge, but here, he' s really worked on creating a stand-alone character at once resembling a familiar Murray persona, but then again, unique into itself.

You expect the irascible, unloveable guy to undergo a transformation and redemption in such a movie, after all, while rubbing off on the cast around him, but Murray's Vincent remains mostly a tempered version of who we first met. What's changed is not so much him, but our view of him, and how his cast members change their view of him, based on what his interactions with the kid reveal.
There's plenty of guffaws in this, though it isn't really a comedy. The supporting cast does a really great job here, and they have to, because we have to inhabit each of them a bit to get a holistic view of Vincent.

Great date movie. But don't go expecting Caddyshack 3 or anything, more like Lost In Translation, where the funny is quiet, the sad is quieter, and you just sit back and watch it all unfold.

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