'St. Vincent': What the Critics Are Saying

Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd and Terrence Howard star in the neighborly Black List dramedy from Theodore Melfi

St. Vincent highlights a grumpy war veteran who finds himself befriending his young, oft-bullied neighbor and his mother. Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard and Jaeden Lieherher, the film from writer and first-time director Theodore Melfi jumps from the Black List to the big screen after generating Oscar buzz at its Toronto Film Festival debut and delivering laughs at its New York City premiere.

The Weinstein Co. title opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding on Oct. 17 and 24.

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Read what top critics are saying about St. Vincent:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy says, "Melfi comes up with any number of good and effective scenes and there’s plenty to enjoy in the performances, first and foremost from Murray, who long since has been a master of deadpan belligerence, the perfectly timed beat to register disdain and disapproval, and surprising physical grace on the part of an unkempt and thoroughly unhealthy looking fellow. ... Even though the film willfully ignores plenty of real-life issues as it rushes toward its denouement, beginning with some basic economic ones, Melfi has laid on the heart of gold stuff so sincerely that mainstream audiences might just eat it up. There’s good in every soul, the film endeavors to say; it’s just a question of finding it."

Additionally, "Melfi has surrounded the star with a solid supporting cast and clearly shows that he knows how to manipulate an audience by putting a Charles Bukowski character into a fairy tale. ... Murray’s the star here, no question, but everyone pitches in, beginning with newcomer Lieberher, who’s very appealing without being cloying as the skinny kid. Watts has a nice change of pace trying on a Russian accent, O’Dowd creates a teacher who loves his job and McCarthy nicely dials down her aggression and sense of being affronted to come up with a real characterization of a woman struggling with single motherhood."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes that Melfi "has borrowed from so many fictional forefathers that Dickens is just built into his script’s DNA," Watts is "an actor who roots around in a cliché and pulls out something human" and McCarthy "takes a conceit and layers it with complication." Melfi "knows how to handle actors, and there are some funny bits ... that suggest Mr. Melfi needs to let his inner Jerry Lewis out more often. He needs to cut loose in other ways, too: His dialogue can have the cadence of real life, but his scenes and situations tend to be canned."

Read more Bill Murray Notes the Best and Worst Parts of 'St. Vincent' Promotion at Hilarious, Heartfelt Premiere

Time's Richard Corliss notes that though the film is too obviously cheesy, "The overqualified actors often give quirky life to a script that denudes their characters of nuance. McCarthy goes nicely pianissimo for a change, playing it fretful rather than shrewish. Lieberher provides charmingly understated counterpoint to the star curmudgeon. Watts chips in with a few chipper chippie scenes. And Murray, taking a rare lead role (his only other in the past nine years was Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 2012 Hyde Park on Hudson), reminds us he’s a precious movie resource. He inhabits the part like an ingenious squatter in an abandoned tenement: picking through the detritus of plot and finding nourishment for Vincent’s pain and wayward grace."

Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey praises Murray's performance, as well as the supporting cast. "As a pregnant Russian stripper, Watt is a wrecking-ball," and O'Dowd is "playing the loveable-funny angle perfectly." Lieberher is "wise-yet-wide-eyed wonderful. ... We will be seeing much more of this lad," and a subtle McCarthy "brings some serious new shades to her craft." Altogether, "As charmingly warm and heartfelt as the movie and the performances are, it might not be enough to qualify for Hollywood sainthood, but it certainly proves to be the perfect ensemble to surround one of the archangels of acting."

New York Observer's Rex Reed notes it more negatively: "Lazy, eccentric, chain-smoking and accident-prone, Murray gives ’em what they clamor for. His eventual redemption as a saint in disguise is predictable. The direction is negligent and the jokes are mild. It’s an O.K. little picture that doesn’t really go anywhere, but it has a resonance that is easy on the heart."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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