The Authors

Our Reel Heroes Book
Greg Smith & Scott Allison

Acknowledgements

  • ♦ We thank Fotomontaggio for the header photo from Wikimedia Commons.
  • ♦ Many thanks to the good folks at Sedona Taphouse for serving up some good eats after we watch the movies reviewed here.
  • ♦ Many thanks to our friends at The Numbers where we get our movie release information (which aids in advance planning)
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St. Vincent ••••1/2

St_Vincent_posterStarring: Bill MurrayMelissa McCarthyNaomi Watts
Director: Theodore Melfi
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: October 24, 2014

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just saw a movie about saints, who seem to be very similar to heroes.


I had the same thought. Let’s see how Bill Murray rates against St. Teresa.


We meet a 68-year-old man named Vincent (Bill Murray). Vincent lives alone with his cat, steals apples, and consorts with hookers, racetracks, bars, and loan sharks who want him to pay up. One day, Vincent discovers that a woman named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) have moved in next door.


Vincent is down to his last dollar so he makes a deal with Maggie to watch Oliver after school while she eeks out a living as a single mom. Vincent takes little interest in 10-year-old Oliver until he comes home with a bloody nose. Then, Vincent decides to take it upon himself to teach Oliver not only to fight, but what it means to be a man – a role that Oliver’s pacifist father has neglected to take on himself.


Greg, St. Vincent surprised me. It surprised me with its sweetness and wisdom in the same way that Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day did more than two decades ago. You could say that the movie follows the classic sinner-to-saint hero story, but that would be an oversimplification. Like St. Augustine, Vincent is a womanizer and who steals apples. But unlike St. Augustine, Vincent is a complex mix of good and bad his entire life. He was a war hero forty years earlier and now tenderly cares for his wife who suffers from dementia. Yet he is also a jerk all that time, too.

We see plenty of Vincent’s dark side. Dishonesty rules his life, and he is surly. But behind the surliness beats a heart of gold. This heart remains hidden until it springs to life thanks to the influence of his new neighbor, the precocious Oliver played brilliantly by Jaeden Lieberher. It’s not unusual for movies to show us the wisdom of children. St. Vincent is special because the mentoring is bi-directional, and it has heartfelt believability. Vincent and Oliver show each other how to grow up.


I agree, Scott. Vincent is the classic villain-turned-hero.  The movie starts out showing us how foul he can be. He seems villainous with his callous disregard for anyone but himself. Even when he agrees to take on the task of babysitting Oliver, it’s not for Oliver’s sake. It’s to take advantage of mom Maggie’s situation – and to pay his gambling debts. He lacks the heroic qualities of caring and selflessness – or as Zimbardo would call it – altruism.

When he visits an old lady in a nursing home – we expect it to be just another scam he’s running. But he is returning her laundry and taking her dirty clothes. He’s actually doing her laundry. Later we see him sitting with her by the dock and we realize this is his wife who suffers from Alzheimers disease. And we realize he isn’t uncaring at all. He gives all his money so that his wife can have the best care. And suddenly Vincent the villain becomes Vincent the saint.


Well, he’s not recognized as a saint by anyone until Oliver comes along and sees a side to him that no one else sees (with the exception of the staff at the Alzheimer’s facility). Even Oliver is disgusted with Vincent until the boy discovers some discarded photos of Vincent’s military service. Oliver is mentored by his teacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd), who instructs Oliver about the definition of a saint as a person who sacrifices to better the lives of others. Greg, this is a moving story about hero formation, hero mentoring, and hero recognition.

So St. Vincent takes us on a journey of discovery in which two unlikely buddy heroes help each other become better people. I believe this film is Bill Murray’s best work since Groundhog Day and could almost unfathomably garner him an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of Vincent is not easy to pull off but Murray does it with understated charisma and compassion. We’re so transfixed by his character that the ending credits show him lying on a recliner with a hose running — and no one in our theater dared to leave even though we see him doing nothing but squirt water on his feet.


There are a few villains in the story, but not many. The racetrack bookie (played by Terrence Howard) threatens to rough Vincent up. The loan officer at the bank has little sympathy for Vincent. They’re all pretty light fare compared to the uncaring head of the nursing home. And Oliver has villains of his own to face down. The schoolyard bully that prompts Vincent to teach Oliver his one fighting maneuver eventually turns into Oliver’s best friend. But the villains are all in the background while Vincent is the main attraction.

I enjoyed St. Vincent very much. I think Bill Murray has found his rhythm as an actor. Melissa McCarthy also delivered a heartwarming performance of the mother who’s just trying to get by – but is a little overwhelmed. There were a lot of comedians in this drama. I’ve heard it said that comedians make the best dramatic actors because they have a deeper understanding of timing. I’d say that St. Vincent definitely demonstrated just that. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

Vincent himself undergoes not so much a transformation in this film, but more of a realization. That is, it is the audience to whom Vincent’s heroism is revealed. He appears villainous at the beginning, but as we get to know him, we see that he has all the qualities of a saint – and all the qualities of a hero, too. There just doesn’t seem to be that much difference. I give Vincent 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Sadly, there are no strong villains in this film. But that’s okay because Vincent appears villainous enough for the majority of the film. I give the villains in St. Vincent just 2 out of 5 Villains.

Movie: reel-4Villains: villain-2 Hero: h-logo-4


St. Vincent is one of the year’s best movies. Bill Murray is at his best when he plays characters with wide moral range. Murray has always been a little mischievous boy inside a man’s body, and as he’s gotten older this incongruency deepens his complex persona. St. Vincent packs a powerful emotional punch toward the end — I found myself shedding a tear or two while Vincent’s heroism is being honored by Oliver and others. For a poignant story of an unlikely pairing of people who save each other, I’m giving St. Vincent a full 5 Reels out of 5.

This is a buddy hero story that follows the usual pattern of two individuals who start out disliking each other but develop an unshakable bond. Like you mention, Greg, the character of Vincent grows in his recognition of his life’s accomplishments, but he also develops a softened heart for Maggie, Oliver, and others. Oliver’s growth follows the usual coming-of-age storyline, and he ends up mentoring Vincent, his mother, and his entire school about the definition and complexity of sainthood. I give these two memorable heroes a rating of 4 out of 5.

The villains are an interesting assortment in St. Vincent. Most conspicuously, the kid who first bullies Oliver at school, a boy named Ocinski (Dario Barosso), undergoes a transformation toward goodness and virtue. One could say that St. Vincent is a movie that sends a message about bullies being redeemable, as Vincent could also be considered a redeemed bully. It’s both rare and satisfying to see villains undergo a transformation toward redemptive goodness. For that reason, I’ll give the villains here a solid score of 3 Villains out of 5.

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