Saint Vincent is about a mean old man named Vincent who curses at children and drinks too much and shortpays the pregnant prostitute he just slept with. So Vincent is totally awful, right? Well, actually... This film ends with a young moppet delivering a speech to his entire school about how Vincent is secretly a modern day saint because he was a war hero and a man who loved his wife and who will make the time and effort to teach a scrawny little kid how to fight off his bullies. You know, I'd never thought about it before but I guess people can contain multitudes.
Although they generally aren't my favorite, there are times when I enjoy a good Grinch story. I, too, can feel joy when I see a heart that used to be two sizes too small grow and grow until it is overflowing with charity. But Saint Vincent is not a good Grinch story for two reasons. The first is that it's not really a Grinch story: there's no Eureka moment where Vincent sees the error of his ways and then vows to become better. No, he actually bends all the other characters to his will - he's still a dick at the end, he's just a dick that his neighbors have decided to tolerate. This movie is building to a "happy ending" that's too dark to really give you a good case of the warm and fuzzies.
Even more problematic, however, is that a real Grinch story deals in contrasts, not in dualities. The Grinch is a mean hearted jerk, then he is a sweetheart, but there's no point where he is both at once; he's completely committed to being a spoilsport before he's completely committed to being a savior. Vincent, however, isn't that straight forward - at every point in his story he is capable of being sweet to the people he likes and he is capable of being a total asshole to the people he doesn't. Unfortunately, that sort of duality is very average, because almost everyone you meet has the capacity for kindness and cruelty. So what makes Vincet worth observing? I understand why a Grinch story is compelling - he totally transforms, and there's something life affirming about that. But Vincent is neither here nor there when his journey begins, and when this movie arrives at it's arbitrary ending he's still neither here nor there.
I'm not trying to hit this movie with a low blow. After all, Saint Vincent is basically a character study and I'm well aware that a well done character study will take an everyday person and make them compelling. I'm just trying to point out that Saint Vincent isn't a good character study because it doesn't want to pick a lane and stick with it. There are times when this movie is a classic Hollywood redemption story - aww, that old grump is teaching that helpless kid how to stand up for himself! There are also parts where this film wants to be a gritty portrait of a down and dirty dude - oh no, that old louse is teaching that fatherless kid that being a man means gambling with money you don't have! Those two tones don't really fit well together. If you're going to have a scene in a bar where an old alcoholic teaches a kid all about drinking you can't turn around and imply that he is a good father figure just because you want a heartwarming finale.
The only thing that comes close to holding this mess of a movie together is Bill Murray, who plays Vincent. Murray's comic creations always contained a bit of melancholy and his tragic creations also tend to have an impish side so Murray definitely has the tools in his toolbox to nail a part like this. However, I'm not sure that casting him was actually a good idea, because it's almost impossible to look at him and not get overwhelmed by all the baggage he brings with him. I mean, how can you watch him in this half-assed Grinch story without thinking of the time he played Ebenezer Scrooge? It's too bad that he wasn't visited by the ghosts of movies past, present and future before he signed on for Saint Vincent, because if he had, we might have been spared a movie that is constantly overshadowed by the other, better movies that Murray has made in this vein.
There are small pleasures to be had in Saint Vincent. I would even go so far as to say that it could have been a great short film, because you could solve a lot of this film's consistency problems by merely limiting this story to one or two scenes. Unfortunately, Saint Vincent isn't a short film - it's an honest to God feature length movie, and it just doesn't have enough ideas to sustain it's run time. I don't need a nearly two hour exploration of the human experience that never finds anything more interesting to say than "people are complicated, huh?" or a piece of escapist entertainment that is too heavy hearted to reach escape velocity. I actually found it pretty easy to reconcile "Vincent, the crotchety old man" with "Vincent, the modern Saint" - I just averaged them into "Vincent, the guy I just don't care about" and moved on with my life.
Winner: The Cat