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St Vincent PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
10 12 2014

Imagedirected by Theodore Melfi

Bill Murray is acknowledged King of Curmudgeons in Hollywood. In a grump-off he could win hands down over De Niro (though I'm not sure about Bruce Dern - ah, what a contest that would be). Yet with Bill it's always a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. And so it proves here, in what could be the best Christmas film this year. Looking more alarmingly old and roughed up than ever, he is Vincent, a monster of a man and the neighbour from hell, who lives in a cussing shambolic haze of drink, damage, betting slips and bad food, getting money where he can and destroying, apparently, any relationship that comes his way. Can this be? But the clue's in the title.

When stressed newly divorced mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, splendid as ever), and her old-beyond-his-years little son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, he's soon barking at them and taking them for all he can get, agreeing to ‘babysit' the lad after school, because for Maggie needs must, for an exorbitant fee, feeding him a diet of sardines with sauce on a smeary plate along with Abbott and Costello on afternoon TV, and taking him along to the races. But the stoical, sad little boy somehow warms to his uncloying ways, and soon they're becoming best mates, so much so that Vincent lets him into his hidden life. It's a hackneyed plot, when you think about it, the grouch next door, the well-meaning single mom, the bullied little kid, the tragic secret, the East European tart with a heart (Naomi Watts, trying hard to forget all that wholesome Princess Diana business), and a baby to go all gooey over - but it's so very deftly and entertainingly done, with super performances all round, specially from young Jaeden whose poker face manages to convey so much, and with a smart turn by the familiar face of Chris O'Dowd as Ollie's dotty but considerate teacher Brother Geraghty. So, speaking as a curmudgeon myself, I can't believe the hardest of hearts won't melt.

You could see it as a modern day Christmas Carol, with Vincent as Scrooge and Ollie the equivalent of the Spirit of Christmas Past, revealing that even the apparently most unprepossessing character has become that way through the slings and arrows of life. School bullies and nasty drunks can be good guys, divorces can be amicable, stroke victims can recover, and fences can be mended. Quite a wish list, and one that might not last much beyond the cinema doors, but, hey, it's Christmas.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, 9 December 2014

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