Bill Murray has his first lead role in nine years with "St. Vincent." In the debut feature film from writer/director Theodore Melfi, he stars as Vincent McKenna, a curmudgeonly Brooklynite who agrees to watch the 11-year-old son of his next-door neighbor for some extra cash. Unsurprisingly, he's a terrible babysitter who does all the wrong things but learns valuable lessons in the end. Does that mean we have a forgettable sentimental comedy on our hands or fall's surprise breakout charmer? HuffPost Entertainment editors Matthew Jacobs and Erin Whitney share their thoughts on "St. Vincent."
Jacobs: In an age when mainstream comedies seem to hit more and more of the same few notes, it's a privilege to see Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy topline a movie that doesn't rely on bros being bros, bros being aging former bros, women seeking revenge against a man or Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore making regrettable career choices. Instead, "St. Vincent" borrows the cantankerous-next-door-neighbor trope, to varying effects. The plot is rather flat from the outset, so even if you haven't seen the trailer before entering the theater, it'll still come as no surprise that Murray's titular Vincent takes Melissa McCarthy's son to the racetrack and to a bar while watching him after school. We've got the cranky neighbor and the bad babysitter rolled into one. But "St. Vincent" has charm despite its conventionalities, and it does feel fresh when compared with most of the year's comedies, no?
Whitney: "St. Vincent," as you say, Matt, is a refreshing take on such trite storylines, but I still only appreciated the film for Murray and McCarthy alone. Without either of them, this could be a straight-to-VOD indie release that you'd maybe watch on Netflix on a dull night during the dead of winter. Luckily, Murray's crotchety neighbor is a delightful addition to the actor's long list of characters; McCarthy, meanwhile, steals the scenes she's in, but I do wish the script lent her more opportunities to prove her dramatic worth. Besides the two of them, "St. Vincent" felt rather dry to me. The comedic moments were sweet, and most of them came from Chris O'Dowd's silly Catholic priest-turned-schoolteacher. In all, much of the film was forgettable, except Murray's Bob Dylan cover during the credits.
Jacobs: It rises above the familiar premise thanks to Murray and McCarthy, the latter of whom gives her most vulnerable performance since "Gilmore Girls." And little Jaeden Lieberher as her son! He's such a delight -- his line delivery and even the way he looks at his co-stars feels like the work of an experienced actor, but he's only 11 and this is his first feature film. (He'll next appear in new films from Cameron Crowe and Jeff Nichols; kid's going places.) On the other hand, Naomi Watts stars as a Russian prostitute -- complete with a thick Russian accent -- who pals around with Vince. Why, why, why?
Whitney: I cannot help being stuck on Watts' Daka, a Russian stripper/dancer/kind-of-girlfriend to Vincent. This was the most distracting and terrible aspect of the film -- oh, and did we mention she's pregnant? Very pregnant. There's even a scene with Watts working a stripper pole with her pregnant belly bursting out between her bikini. Sure, this was intended as a comedic moment, but there wasn't a single laugh during the press screening, save for a couple of uncomfortable exhales. If only an actual Russian actress or even a nobody played this part, the whole movie would've felt much more authentic to me.
Jacobs: There was no need to cast Watts in the role just to shove a third A-lister onto the (terrible) poster. Aren't McCarthy and Murray apt-enough wish fulfillment for most comedy devotees in 2014? But the real problem with "St. Vincent" is that it can't avoid indulgent sentimentality. It becomes such a Message Movie that all its genuine charm and sincerity is pushed aside because of The Feelings We're Forced To Feel. This movie really didn't need to become a parable.
Whitney: This is such a Message Movie, and the worst part is that we can see the big heartwarming moment of change up ahead way too early. There's no surprise as to what's going to crack Vincent's dusty, hardened old heart, and as we lead up to it, it almost becomes eye roll-worthy. Let's just get on with it, I found myself thinking at a certain point when it was clear this movie wasn't going to lead in a different direction. And while I'm not sure what more can be asked of a movie with such simple goals, I just wish it had surprised me a little and left me feeling something real that wasn't forced down my throat by a cheery Catholic priest. Maybe Murray's Vincent could've gotten in a fight with O'Dowd's character, or maybe the "life lessons" Vincent teaches the young boy could've been something deeper beyond merely standing up to bullies. Murray and McCarthy are the only two people who add color to this monochrome feature, which will likely become a footnote on their expansive resumes.
"St Vincent" opened in limited release on Oct. 10 and expands nationwide on Oct. 17 and 24.