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In 2004, Bill Murray won the best actor in a musical or comedy Golden Globe and almost won the best actor Oscar for his work in Lost in Translation; for the latter, he came up short in a hotly contested race, to Mystic River‘s Sean Penn. Now, a decade later, Murray could be back in the running for that same Golden Globe, if not that same Oscar, for his finest work since: his indelible portrayal of a grumpy old man who bonds with his young new neighbor in Ted Melfi‘s St. Vincent, a dramedy that The Weinstein Co. is distributing.
The film was very well received at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday (which the fest declared “Bill Murray Day”) and at its encore special presentation screening on Saturday (which a festivalgoer astutely suggested calling “Groundhog Dog”).
Murray plays the titular Vincet, who is anything but a saint: he is, or at least initially appears to be, a bitter, lazy, mean-spirited man without any sort of purpose for life or moral compass. He’s an alcoholic. He’s a gambler. He’s involved with a stripper/escort (Oscar nominee Naomi Watts). And he doesn’t have a nice bone in his body.
After a single mother (Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy) and her young son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) move in next-door, though, he and the boy, a sweet kid who never calls him anything but “Sir,” form an unlikely bond, and we the audience begin to appreciate, as the boy does, that the man is the way he is for specific reasons, which I will not spoil.
We’ve seen variations of this film many times before — see Grumpy Old Men (1993), etc. — but it is still a pleasure to behold because of the opportunity that it accords Murray to do what he does best, which is be a smartass. The 63-year-old comedy legend remains one of the funniest performers you’ll ever see, all while retaining a Buster Keaton-esque stoneface that makes his acerbic dialogue and physical antics all the funnier. (Interestingly, Chris O’Dowd, whom I regard as an heir, of sorts, to Murray, also shines in the film as a school teacher.)
As TIFF’s reception for him clearly demonstrated for any who doubted it, moviegoers simply love and root for Murray. Particularly in light of the tearjerking way in which this film resolves itself — and I heard a lot of sniffling — he’s a guy I’d think twice about betting against.
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