Unsung Conservative Films–ST. VINCENT (2014)
By Douglas Lloyd McIntosh

Writer/Director: Theodore Melfi

Producers: Fred Roos, Peter Chernin

Cast: Bill Murray, Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher

This film is so bleak at the start that you may be tempted to walk out,
thinking it’s just another Life Sucks and Then You Die movie. I felt that way
myself, but a little voice told me it just might be heading for a better place.
It just might be a story of redemption. What really held me in my chair at the
time, though, is that ST. VINCENT is absolutely hilarious.

Most people who think about such matters realize that Bill Murray is one of our
greatest comic actors. Personally I think he’s one of our greatest actors
period and to call him anything less is to underrate him. Mr. Murray plays
Vincent MacKenna, whom we first see sitting in a seedy bar telling a bad joke
complete with a convincing Irish accent. Well, it’s a bad joke in the sense
that none of the other patrons laugh. Where I saw the film, there was a moment
of silence and then everybody roared, but a more crowded venue might not be as
discerning. On the way home to his dreary little house in the wilds of
Brooklyn, Vincent steals an apple from an open air fruit stand. Upon transition
to his untidy bedroom we find him humping away with his steady outcall
companion, a Russian hooker who’s about to be fired from her
"official" job as a pole dancer because her pregnancy is beginning to
show. Daka Paramova is portrayed by Naomi Watts, whom I consider one of our
greatest though ridiculously underrated actresses.

Great naturalistic actors who underplay, such as Murray and Ms. Watts, never
get the same acclaim as the scenery chewers, which is why I felt so bad when
Peter Fonda lost what is likely to be his only chance for the best actor Oscar for ULEE’S GOLD (1997) to three time winner and twelve times nominated Jack
Nicholson’s admittedly great but much more over-the-top performance in the same
year’s AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Couldn’t Hollywood have awarded brilliant subtlety
just once?

In any case, though ST. VINCENT is rated PG-13, concerned parents should be
forewarned about this early sex scene as well as the foul language throughout,
though there are more explicit sexual portrayals almost every night on cable
television and sometimes on the big broadcast networks too. There’s no nudity
in this film, though, at least that I can remember, even in the scenes that
take place in the strip club where Daka does her lascivious routines. Still,
it’s irksome and a dilemma for parents that some of these elements are
portrayed as blatantly as they are in a story where the central character is a
twelve-year-old boy.

Oliver Bronstein (Jaeden Leiberher) is the adopted only child of divorcing
parents, whose mother has just moved in next door to Vincent with her son. The
mom, Maggie Bronstein, is portrayed by another great actress, Melissa McCarthy,
who has a long and distinguished background in Broadway theater. She also
co-stars on the CBS sexcom MIKE AND MOLLY, which turned out to be so filthy
that I couldn’t get through five minutes of the one episode I sampled. True
situation comedies apparently don’t exist anymore. They all seem to be about
sex, and only about sex, and the attitude toward all the sex is of the junior
high/middle school variety, the age range in which most sitcom producer-writers appear
to be fixated for life. None of this, however, takes anything away from Ms.
McCarthy’s acting talent.

Faced with the necessity of long hours earning a living as a medical technician,
Maggie winds up having to employ her crusty next door neighbor Vincent as Oliver’s
after school babysitter. The two unlikely and downright prickly amigos slowly
develop an equilibrium of mutual respect that slowly evolves into something like a
surrogate father-son relationship, hitherto absent in both their lives. Not
knowing any better or perhaps not caring in the least, Vincent drags Oliver
along in his usual late afternoon rounds of drinking in bars, compulsive
gambling on the ponies at Belmont, fleeing a dangerous loan shark, dealing with
Daka, and scrambling for cash by any possible means. He also takes Oliver along
on weekly visits to a nursing home, where he ministers in various ways to a
beautiful Alzheimer’s patient of about his own age. She thinks he’s a doctor,
and he plays that role consistently to Oliver’s great curiosity, which will
powerfully pay off later in the story. Vincent also saves the smallish Oliver
from schoolhouse bullies and teaches him how to fight back. Oliver eventually
smashes the chief bully in the nose, and the two boys subsequently become best

One of Maggie’s goals in working her long hard hours is to spare Oliver from the
dysfunctional horrors of the New York City public school system. She pays the
expensive tuition for him to be educated in a Roman Catholic school, where he
quickly learns that he is not only far from the only non-Catholic but far from
the only child who "thinks he’s Jewish" or is definitely Jewish. Many
of the funniest lines in the film are spoken by the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd as
the class teacher Brother Geraghty. Typical line: "We have the best
religion because we have the most rules!" The priests and teaching
brothers who run the school are portrayed as not only tolerant but genuinely
caring about all their charges, Catholic or not. Brother Geraghty and the
school principal (Ron McLarty) prove immensely compassionate and helpful to
Maggie in a moment of supreme need. Their religious vocation is never
disparaged or mocked in the typical easy Hollywood way but rather treated with

The conservative values of ST. VINCENT have obviously been autobiographically
generated through the life experiences of screenwriter Theodore Melfi, whose
first feature this is as a director. When Mr. Melfi’s brother died years ago,
he and his wife adopted the brother’s daughter, their niece, and raised her as
their own, entrusting her education to a Catholic school. At some point years
later her class assignment was to do a presentation on a person that the
student considers a saint, not necessarily in the Roman Catholic sense, but
perhaps in more secular terms as someone who might not necessarily be
considered a saint by anyone else. The daughter picked Mr. Melfi, which he
considers one of the greatest honors of his life.

Melfi has carried this concept over into the structure of his film. Brother
Geraghty gives the class the identical assignment, and Oliver chooses Vincent
as the secular saint of his presentation. Thanks to a little manipulation by
Daka, who after many mutual crises has moved in with Vincent to raise her
baby–a redemptive decision for all three–Vincent attends the presentation.

Thanks to Oliver’s sensitivity and research, especially his discovery of the former Sergeant MacKenna’s valorous record in Vietnam, the school audience learns about
unexpected deeds of honor, courage and compassion that make Vincent much more
complex and much greater than the hard-drinking, compulsively gambling loser
most people think he is. Liberals far and wide are already condemning this
ending as sentimental, and I suppose it is, at least for those always ready to
bristle with resentment at anything that touches the human heart with any
emotion other than envy and rage.

The rest of us can be thankful at this holiday season for another perspective.
What is man, we ask, that he has been made a little lower than the angels? How
is it that men and women, striving against difficulty, living hard lives,
forging on in the face of despair and disappointment, falling short of
perfection even in the standards we set up on our own, yet find ourselves
loving and being loved in the most unexpected ways and situations? We gather
our courage. We do good even when no one knows about it. We stand to our duty
as we somehow manage to see that duty. We peer into the darkest clouds, where
if our minds and hearts are open we pick up hints of that dawning light which
will one day conquer all the darkness forever. That final victory will be over
the opponent Vincent has truly been fighting against all of his days.

For the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

NOTE: Another American Thanksgiving has passed, but the Kindle and print versions of my historical novel, THE SECOND
THANKSGIVING, A Novel Of Plymouth 1623, remain available on Amazon.com. The epub
format can be found on Smashwords and most other online retailers.

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