Thirty-seven years ago, a young comedian named Bill Murray debuted on the second season of the TV show “Saturday Night Live” to replace original cast member Chevy Chase. Three short years later and with an Emmy Award clutched in his hand, the 30-year old Murray followed Chase’s lead and also departed “SNL” for the big-screen. As quickly as Murray had succeeded in television, his success in movies was even more staggering by comparison. Less than five years after making his transition from award-winning TV to a film career, he landed a trio of iconic ’80s comedies that people can still quote Murray’s money lines from: “Caddyshack” (1980), “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (1984). Bill Murray showed us how the world of comedy worked and made it look effortless.
Fast-forward thirty years and we find Bill Murray’s character in “St. Vincent” proclaiming to the mother of a 12-year old boy named Oliver; “I’m showing him how the world works” as he smokes, drinks and gambles his life and money away. Murray plays the cranky, old neighbor Vincent McKenna, who is asked by the single mom (Melissa McCarthy) living next door if he’ll babysit the youngster while she desperately works long hours trying to make ends meet. Murray admirably attempts to fill the parenting and mentorship void in the sixth grader’s life (brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) leading to hilarious scenes and one-liners throughout the film. All the same funny trademarks we’ve become accustomed to getting from the popular comedian, shine though in this movie…and more.
During his nearly four decades of entertaining us–the smirking and wisecracking comic has repeatedly provided audiences with laughs over and over again, like he did in the mega-hit “Groundhog Day” in 1993. That’s the Bill Murray we’ve grown to love and expect since his days of chasing paranormal activity and busting ghosts as Doctor Peter Venkman. What I didn’t expect in this film, though, was the phenomenal, and touching performance given by Murray.
First-time director Theodore Melfi wisely allowed Murray to be the face and voice of the movie, resulting in the “SNL” veteran nailing every debauchery scene and lewd line perfectly. But more importantly, Melfi, didn’t settle for a movie only filled with gag lines to bring smiles to viewers’ faces. Instead, he added several compassionate, heartwarming aspects to Murray’s cat-loving, Vincent persona. The film combines comedy and drama, often within the same conversation. Murray and McCarthy are both equally remarkable as they put their serious acting prowess on display, enduring each bump from along their characters’ difficult road in a believable story. “St. Vincent” shows everyone’s personal warts, unabashedly, through a constant mix of anxiety, humor, strength and vulnerability. That combination of feelings, coupled with Murray’s creative talent to pull them off, easily makes this his finest performance ever in film.
We’ve seen notable glimpses of Murray’s dramatic side before in movies like 2003’s “Lost in Translation”, where he earned an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actor category. His ability to not only grasp, but truly master, serious roles is just as impressive today as his comedic skills were back in Murray’s old “SNL” days. For this reason, look for Bill Murray’s sensational performance in “St. Vincent” to spark chatter of a possible Oscar nomination in his future. In the end, he may not win an Academy Award for his portrayal of the angry, old neighbor with a kind heart. But he deserves to be included on the list for consideration.
“St. Vincent” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.
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