A hunk of cheese. It is, inherently, a potential bit of sustenance but also something that is, well, familiar. Movies can be akin to that and still be worthwhile. It is, sadly, far too often that those who criticize want to immediately hack up a flick simply for doing things we've seen before. Theodore Melfi has, without a doubt, seen the countless films that have come before his latest effort, St. Vincent. It features an old curmudgeon that befriends a young child and lessons are learned, etc. The sorts of tropes that define these kinds of movies could be worthwhile critical talking points but only if they're executed poorly. The script, while pedestrian at times, benefits greatly from an A-list cast that elevates the film past saccharine schlock into a truly likable film. It isn't a bad thing to make a widespread crowdpleaser is it? Not really.
Vincent (Bill Murray) plays the grouch in question. He drinks a lot, smokes even more and has weekly dates with a pregnant hooker/stripper (Naomi Watts). Vincent isn't exactly a lovable guy when we first meet him. Entertaining in spurts, sure, but a prick nonetheless. New neighbors move in next door and force the grizzled fellow to interact with people -- not something he's great at. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) are a typical single-parent family, still outrunning the results of a nasty divorce. Oliver, being the typical wafer of a boy that most of these films feature, needs a sitter in the afternoons since Maggie works into the evening. An odd relationship of sorts is immediately forged between the two.
There are the inevitable trips to a bar, to the horse race and more. Vincent, being the rough and tumble sort, helps Oliver grow up a bit in exchange for being softened around the edges ever so slightly. Other broadly drawn characters show up as well including a Catholic teacher (Chris O'Dowd) and a bookie (Terrence Howard) but, really, the stars of the show are Murray and Lieberher.
The rapport between the two feels so natural and unforced. Lieberher's calm and offputting charm as a young actor play well against the the veteran wile and skill of Murray. Lesser films would have played up the more Dennis the Menace aspect of a relationship like that, come off as more outlandish or silly. Oliver has an innate ability to see the very best in people all around him despite being constantly shown otherwise. Vincent's cynicism and worldly knowledge clash with that but it makes for a truly infectious mix of character that is tough to look away from.
The time-worn ideas of life having more to it than just the misery we're accustomed to and so forth is one we all know. The cast, though, is truly committed to making this movie work. McCarthy, far less brash and showing more of her actual range as an actress, works as the overworked single Mom just trying to take care of her son. Naomi Watts finds some surprising depth considering she plays a pregnant hooker who pals around with. The aformentioned chemistry between the youngest and oldest actor in the film, though, truly sells this as something worth watching.