Bill Murray is a damn national treasure.
Sure, the story of St. Vincent might sound a bit clichéd on the surface: A grizzled old man takes an unlikely gig babysitting for a precocious boy -- hilarity ensues. But Murray's resplendent performance, carved and sanded around every nook and corner of his irascible character, proves that these boilerplate plot devices aren't always tired and overused; sometimes, they're classic templates that truly great actors can step into to create something new, indelible, and in this case, very funny.
No doubt the very idea of Murray, the wry, beloved elder statesman of tragicomedy, playing a cantankerous old coot could sound just as clichéd. But once again, it's the nuance he brings to such a shoe-in role that makes this film more than the sum of its parts. The story follows the titular Vincent as he arranges his life around visits to the bar, the racetrack, and the strip club, mowing down his own rickety picket fence with his '86 wood-paneled K-car convertible after one particularly bad night. Vincent hates most people, saving his meager affection for a fluffy Persian cat and a pregnant Russian stripper/prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts). However, he's also broke, so when he notices that his new neighbor, a single mom and CAT-scan technician named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), is clearly in desperate need of a babysitter for her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), he offers to watch him for 12 bucks an hour.
From his old-school Brooklyn accent to his shifty posture, Murray imbues Vincent with the kind of effervescent charm and vulnerable grace that appeal to us all the more for being partially hidden beneath the surface. As you might expect, he finds delightfully inappropriate ways to kill time during his evenings with Oliver after school, teaching the runty kid how to throw a decent punch and play the over/under at a horse race. But, of course, he does so with effortless comic timing and trademark gravitas -- not to mention solid chemistry with his young co-star. Vincent's ascent toward "sainthood," from which the movie gets its name, comes from the revelation that every miserable old bastard has a past (and probably a sad one), but even the meanest guy still has a future. It's a touching note for a film to hit in these cynical times, but if there's anyone we're willing to hear it from, it's Bill Murray.