by NEVIL GIBSON
The absence of feel good films for Christmas has been previously noted in this column.
It seems Hollywood now has to treat anything to do with religion as suspect, or at best a source of humour.
Christian celebrations, in particular, get rough treatment.
So while the anniversary of Christ’s birth is still some time off, an early entry of seasonal theme is most welcome.
But it comes in unattractive wrapping.
St Vincent (The Weinstein Company) is another grouchy old man who befriends a sweet natured kid.
The last example was just a few weeks ago when Michael Douglas played a reluctant granddad in And So It Goes.
Next up is Bill Murray, an actor with much greater claim to grumpiness and the star of many top comedies, notably Ghost Busters (1984), Groundhog Day (1993)
and Lost in Translation (2003).
More recently, he slipped into one of his cantankerous characters as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson and a more limited role as an architect on a World War II mission in The Monuments Men.
Murray has also propped up most of Wes Anderson’s whimsical comedies, from his takeoff of French explorer Jean-Jacques Cousteau in The Life Aquatic with
Steve Zissou to the perplexed policeman in Moonrise Kingdom.
Now in his 60s, he is following in the tradition of Scrooge-like curmudgeons played by Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.
Indeed, in 1988, Murray was the lead in Scrooged, in which he played a selfish, cynical TV executive who is haunted by the spirits of Christmas.
The parallels with A Christmas Carol and even the classic It’s a Wonderful Life are not without reason.
His character, Vincent, lives alone with a fluffy white cat, Felix, who, like many animals in films these days, has a starring role on his own.
Vincent lives in a rundown clapboard Brooklyn house that takes dilapidation to new heights in a set decorators’ dream.
He drinks, smokes, gambles and is rude to bankers. But he also has a soft side, demonstrated in his intimate relationship with an expectant Russian heart-of-gold escort, incongruously played by Naomi Watts in a heavy accent and radical change in style from her Princess Diana role.
But the story’s focus is on a single mother (Melissa McCarthy, who is mostly noted for over-the top rants in This is 40 and The Heat, with police buddy Sandra Bullock).
Here, she is much more restrained as the under-pressure mum, apart from one tearful interview with the priests who run the Catholic school her son attends.
She and 12-year-old Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next to Vincent, who reluctantly offers babysitting services because of her long working hours at a
Vincent endears himself to Oliver by fighting off some school bullies and soon the pair is inseparable as they go to the races, bars and watch too much TV.
The payoff is worth waiting for and will bring the Christmas spirits all the sooner.
Rating: Parental guidance advised for younger viewers; 104 minutes.