Granger on Movies: 'St. Vincent'
Bill Murray sneaks into your heart as Vincent, a crusty curmudgeon who lives with his Persian cat Felix in a run-down house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. When Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a newly separated mother, moves in next door, the moving van knocks down a tree branch that crashes into his ancient Chrysler convertible -- and he's furious.
As it turns out, she's a harried nurse/technician who works long hours at the hospital, so her politely precocious 12 year-old son, Oliver (Jason Lieberher), winds up spending his after-school hours with unkempt, foul-mouthed Vincent, who demands to be paid as his bracingly unorthodox babysitter.
Vincent's weekly routine revolves around sessions with Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant Russian stripper/prostitute who charges by-the-hour, and his Alzheimer's-stricken wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell), whom he dutifully visits at the swanky nursing home he can no longer afford. When he's not with either of them, he's drinking at a local bar or betting on the races at Belmont Park, where he artfully dodges the bookie (Terence Howard) to whom he owes a bundle.
Wherever world-weary Vincent goes, Oliver tags along, learning life lessons along the way -- which he thoughtfully integrates into a pronouncement by his Catholic school teacher, Brother Geraghty (Chris O'Dowd), that there are potential saints among us, if only we look hard enough.
Adroitly avoiding being too schmaltzy, writer/director Theodore Melfi makes his feature film debut with this memorable star-vehicle for 64 year-old Bill Murray, whose command of physical comedy is nothing less than masterful. Murray absolutely nails this cantankerous, misanthropic slob and -- like his performances in "Rushmore," "Meatballs" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" -- his playfulness shines when he's paired with a youngster.
Abandoning her usual loudmouth shtick, Melissa McCarthy reveals surprising maternal vulnerability. Jason Lieberher's serious soulfulness is endearing. Even Naomi Watts turns what could be a caricature into a sympathetic character.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "St. Vincent" is a slyly subversive 7. And Murray's already generating Oscar buzz.
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