Making the Grades
How would you define a Saint? Someone who is holy, kind, courageous, patient and self-sacrificing? All of these are praiseworthy attributes—and none of them would come to mind if you were asked to describe Vincent (Bill Murray).
For Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), slovenly and hostile are the first impressions of their new neighbor. And their observations of Vincent are accurate. Other shortcomings that could appropriately be added to the list are drunkard, gambler, chain-smoker and regular customer of a lady of the night (played by Naomi Watts).
So it is a strange twist of desperation that turns the old codger into Oliver’s babysitter. For the newly divorced Maggie it’s long and unpredictable work hours. For the debt-encumbered Vincent it’s a quick way to get some cash. With no plans of altering his habits, Vincent simply drags Oliver to all his usual hangouts: the racetrack, a bar and a nursing home where he delivers clean laundry to an elderly female resident. But occasionally Oliver’s life breaks into his routine—like the day a gang of bullies pushes the boy around and gives him a bloody nose. Unexpectedly Vincent comes to Oliver’s defense, and Oliver sees an unexpected side of Vincent.
Suddenly black and white judgments blur into shades of grey, and the definitions of sinner and saint become a little sketchy. While there is no question about Vincent’s lack of holiness—that’s settled with the scene of him in bed with a prostitute (she straddles him, with accompanying sexual sounds and movements)—he does prove exceptionally kind to the picked-on Oliver. As well he exhibits traits of courage, patience and self-sacrifice during his interactions with his well-fed cat, the old woman with dementia and the sex-trade worker whose unplanned pregnancy is about to seriously impact her earning potential.
Just like the balancing act of Vincent’s virtues and vices, the script also teeter-totters between positives and negatives. On the plus side, there are some great performances here from Murray’s crusty-on-the-outside character, to McCarthy’s fighting-to-get-it-together mom and Lieberher’s exceptionally-played tenacious weakling. The minuses include the unethical means Vincent uses to accomplish his good deeds (like lying, stealing, betting and drug selling), and some glaring plot holes, especially when Vincent’s drowning financial problems inexplicably dry up.
The film presents some content issues for young viewers too. There is the litany of profanities, crass comments, a strong sexual expletive and several vulgar hand gestures. Implied sexual activity, depictions of strippers dancing, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking also clutter the production, along with portrayals of a threatening loan shark.
While the story’s central theme that there is good in everyone is laudable, viewers may find themselves debating whether the delivered message is sweetly sentimental or masterly manipulative. Regardless of what you decide, one thing seems abundantly certain: Despite the accolades of the angelic Oliver to encourage those around him to see the best in others, his praise isn’t likely to convince St. Vincent to give up his faults anytime soon.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about St. Vincent.
St. Vincent (also known as: St. Vincent De Van Nuys) is opening in limited release October 17, 2014. It will open wide on October 24, 2014.
Would you hire a man like Vincent to babysit your child? Would learning about his gentler side be enough to change your first impressions, or would you still have reservations about his suitability.
What part of Vincent does the movie emphasize to help us see the best side of his character? What things does it brush over or ignore? Do you feel the film offers a truthful depiction of such a person?