Arts movie review

The ultimate feel-good movie

Theodore Melfi’s debut film St. Vincent delivers a touching and captivating story

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Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher star in Melfi’s debut St. Vincent.
courtesy of THE weinstein company


St. Vincent

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and Naomi Watts

Rated PG-13

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With plenty of dark humor strung throughout the film, St. Vincent narrates the touching relationship between a grumpy, old alcoholic named Vincent (Bill Murray) and his young neighbor Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As Oliver tags along with Vincent during his daily routine, Vincent quickly takes Oliver under his wing, showing him the local race track, protecting him from a gang of bullies, and teaching him how to fight. As their relationship develops, Oliver realizes that despite Vincent’s miserable outward appearance, the old man’s heart is still in the right place.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the writer and director of St. Vincent, Ted Melfi, at a roundtable interview, and he was able to provide some insight on the film’s inspiration and production.

“Vincent’s character is based on my wife’s father,” Melfi explained. “He was a drunk. He had five kids, but didn’t know any of them, and abandoned my wife when she was nine. 25 years later, my wife goes to one of those find-your-life seminars in LA, and one of the assignments was to get complete with someone in your life. And so she sends this letter to an address she finds in the White Pages, and two weeks later the phone rings, and it’s her dad. She hadn’t talked to him in 25 years, but from that moment on, they formed a daughter-father relationship for the last ten years of his life.”

The film reflects upon the somber lifestyle of an alcoholic, which Murray so brilliantly portrays, but without its elements of humor, the film would have been a dramatic 102-minute sob story. When asked why he decided to portray such a poignant story in a comedic light, Melfi responded, “I never looked at the film as a sentimental film. So there are no super-hyper close ups of people’s faces, no tears flowing — everything just happens naturally. The only way to tell the story with a message, which to me is that ‘every human being has value,’ is with comedy. The only way to deal with pain is to laugh about it.”

The film also skillfully weaves various subplots into its lower-middle class setting, with Naomi Watts playing the role of a Russian prostitute, Melissa McCarthy starring as the single mother of Oliver, and Chirs O’Dowd playing the role of a Catholic school teacher. Melfi explained that his experiences growing up in Brooklyn inspired him to touch upon lower-middle class struggles.

“I grew up in that environment,” he recounted, “There were single moms everywhere, and drunks all over the neighborhood. There were gangs across the street, and prostitutes all up and down the street. And there was a Catholic priest right in the middle of this Catholic neighborhood. And so, these are the stories that are more interesting to me — I mean who wants to watch rich people? I don’t want to watch rich people. I don’t want to watch people so poor that it’s too sad for me. So I guess slightly above poor is my sweet spot.”

St. Vincent is a must-see film for anyone looking for heartwarming glimpse of another lifestyle, especially for MIT students, who seem perpetually enclosed in this science-math-engineering bubble. In an environment where students are so often caught up in career paths and future money-making plans, MIT students should also consider Melfi’s take on his own future. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, and I don’t know who I am yet,” he said. “The thing to do — and Bill taught me this — is to take your time. You can only do so many things in your life, and you want those things to have value.”