His friends call him Vin. Or at least they would if he had any.
He's got a girlfriend, but she charges by the hour. He chats with the local barkeep, 'til the guy cuts him off. He sometimes shares a beer with Zucko at the racetrack, but Zucko's gonna take a baseball bat to his kneecaps one of these days unless Vin pays his debts.
Yeah, Vincent is not at risk of being voted "Mr. Congeniality" anytime soon. He's a cantankerous old cuss, and he works at it. His hygiene is questionable. His house is filthy. His yard looks like a set from a Mad Max movie. His closest real companion is a fluffy white cat, and we suspect she stays just for the food. Vin's certainly not the sort of person with whom you'd entrust your children.
Unless you're super-duper desperate, I guess.
You see, Maggie and her little boy Oliver just moved in next door. And they don't look like they're desperate. In fact, on the outside they appear to be decent, reasonably sane folk. But on the inside, the two of them feel just about as healthy as Vincent's front yard. Maggie's going through a rocky divorce and taking on extra nursing shifts at the hospital to pay Oliver's private school tuition. Too bad that money's going toward Oliver getting bullied between classes. And when his tormentors steal his school uniform out of his gym locker—along with his house keys and cellphone—the boy finds himself in a serious pickle. He can't just sit on the porch and wait for his mother to come home. So he walks over to Vincent's house and asks to use the phone. Vin says yes ... reluctantly.
He calls Mom. But Maggie's new on the job and with a backlog of patients, she can't leave work. Oliver will have to stay at Vincent's for a few hours. Would Vin mind? No, he says (his last disturbing conversation with Zucko fresh in his mind) ... as long as he gets 12 bucks an hour for it.
Maggie says OK. What choice does she have? And it's not like it'll become a regular thing. Will it?
Oliver doesn't have a terrible time with Vincent. "He's sorta cool, in a grouchy sort of way," he tells his mother. And with that vigorous vote of confidence, Maggie decides to hire Vincent on as a regular after-school babysitter.
Now, obviously, it's not the best setup in the world, and we'll soon get into why you should never leave your children with alcohol-addled gamblers you've just met the day before. But this particular alcohol-addled gambler turns out to have some surprisingly good qualities that make him, indeed, sorta cool, in a problematic sort of way.
Like this: Vincent truly cares for the prostitute he hires every week, more than the money he pays her really shows. She's a Russian immigrant named Daka who is pregnant, and so he sees to it that she gets the proper medical care and is able to purchase an affordable crib. (Note that there are lots of problems in this situation and the way Vin finagles things for her.) Meanwhile, his Alzheimer's-stricken wife has been in a nursing home for eight years, and every week he sees her and does her laundry. She doesn't recognize him at all anymore, so he masquerades as a doctor in order to talk with her—caring for her as much as she'll allow. He also fought in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star—a tidbit Oliver only learns through some detective work.
So maybe it's not completely odd that when Oliver's Catholic school does a project on who students would consider "living saints," he profiles Vincent, saying that it's his curmudgeonly sitter who has taught him about sacrifice, courage and hope. And there are even subtle hints that, after being dubbed a saint, Vincent actually tries to be a little more "saintly." He advises Oliver to not cheat and steal, and at the very end of the movie as the credits roll, we see the man haphazardly cleaning up and watering his lawn.
[Spoiler Warning] When Vincent has a stroke, Oliver, Daka and Maggie pitch in to help him get his speech back. Daka cleans up Vincent's place and declares that they won't have sex anymore. Instead, she'll be his housekeeper and caretaker.
As mentioned, Oliver goes to a Catholic school, even though he suspects he's Jewish. Brother Geraghty (a priest and teacher there) calmly points out that the class is filled with believers and nonbelievers of every stripe, including an "'I don't know,' which seems to be the fastest growing religion in the world." In semi-joke mode, Geraghty tells Oliver that Catholicism is the "best" religion, mainly because it has the most rules. When Oliver does a report on St. William of Rochester, the patron saint of adoption, Oliver comes to believe that the only reason William became a saint was because his adopted son killed him. Geraghty says that "dumbness does not play well in heaven."
A friend teaches Oliver to cross himself. Oliver's forced to pray in front of the class, even though he doesn't know how. We see him draw a doodle of a bearded man with a halo. A couple of times it seems that Vincent is whispering a prayer, but he says he doesn't think he should even say grace before a meal.
Vincent visits Daka at her strip club. We watch her and another woman perform a lewd pole dance in skimpy outfits. (Daka, because of her pregnancy, has a hard time pulling herself off the ground). Vincent and Daka have sex, both of them making rather dispassionate sexual movements. She wears an assortment of provocative outfits, and when she bends over to grab something from the fridge, Vincent overtly ogles her backside as her short skirt pulls up.
We hear that Maggie's husband cheated on her with several women, and Maggie's bitterly vocal about it. At a custody hearing, when Daka's relationship with Vincent is brought up, Oliver admits that he knew Daka was a "lady of the night" (which Vincent says is "one of the most honest ways to make a living"). When Maggie asks if Oliver knows what that means, the boy says, "That she works nights?"
When Oliver tries to fend a kid named Ocinski off by slapping him, the bully throws him to the ground (bloodying Oliver's nose) and presses a skateboard down on his diaphragm. Vincent ends the assault by breaking the offending board and hurling it at the fleeing children. That evening, he teaches Oliver to fight. And we later see Oliver use some of Vincent's moves on his foe, smashing Ocinski's face and knocking him out cold. He tells Vincent that he must've broken Ocinski's nose, because there was "blood everywhere."
Vincent slams a bar glass down, shattering it and cutting his hand. He chips ice with a hammer, slicing his thumb. Then, as he hops around, he hits his head on a cupboard and knocks himself out. Poor Vin wakes up on the kitchen floor in the morning with a nasty gash on his head and blood on the floor. When Zucko and a hefty thug barge into Vincent's home to make him pay up ("Don't kill him," Zucko says, "but bring him close to it"), Vincent has a stroke and collapses before they lay a hand on him.
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words, about 20 s-words and most every other profanity you might not want to name (some of them said by the priest, even more thrown around by the kids), including "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "p---" and "pr--k." God's name is misused a handful of times, once with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused once. Several people make obscene hand gestures. Daka says "retarded" several times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Rarely does Vincent even try to face life—or anything in it—without booze in his hand. He's constantly downing beer and/or mixed drinks. He drives home drunk and crashes his car into his own picket fence (and then lies about it to get Maggie to pay). He dances drunk, weaving and swaying by a jukebox. He gets angry when the bartender cuts him off or tells him he's all out of bourbon. And he takes Oliver to the bar with him on occasion.
Vincent also smokes cigarettes and at one point dumps a slew of butts in Oliver's lap. (At the end of the movie, though, he seems to intentionally drench his hidden stash of cigs, which he keeps in a flower pot.) He swipes several pill bottles from his wife's nursing home and tries to sell them on the black market (the proceeds he hopes will, after parlaying it up at the track, pay his wife's bills).
Other Negative Elements
Vincent lies a lot—sometimes offering vague justifications, sometimes not. And he takes things into theft and fraud territory, too. He cleans out Oliver's bank account to bet on the ponies. And he takes the kid to the track with him, teaching him how to gamble.
St. Vincent is a flawed man. And St. Vincent is a flawed movie. The film has a nice heart but a messed-up head, and while Vincent's actions aren't meant to be aspirational, they're still not particularly beneficial to watch. All the sex and swearing and unremitting bad behavior make this movie as discomforting as Vin's trashy living room.
During his school project presentation, Oliver acknowledges that Vincent is flawed. "Very flawed," he adds for emphasis. But he reminds his young audience that saints were and are human beings. Sure, Vincent drinks and smokes and lies and gambles. But that's not his whole person. There's a great deal more to him than that—even if he doesn't care to show it that often.
That's the truth for all of us, isn't it? We are more than our vices. We are less than our virtues. We tend to point at people like Vincent, note their flaws and pretend we know all about them. But we don't. We look at the people we admire from afar and think we understand them. But we don't.
St. Vincent didn't convince me of Vincent's sainthood. But it does remind me that people are so much more than a résumé or rap sheet. We are complex creatures, and yet despite often comprehending our own complexity, we so often try to tattoo labels on others that may describe just a sliver of who they really are. We judge people quickly and often unfairly at work, at church and even at home. And those labels can blind us to the real people standing before us—the people God sees as His creations.
But trying to give certain badly behaving people (or movies) the opportunity to surpass their labels is no reason to lend them our children.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Bill Murray as Vincent; Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver; Melissa McCarthy as Maggie; Naomi Watts as Daka; Chris O'Dowd as Brother Geraghty; Terrence Howard as Zucko; Kimberly Quinn as Nurse Ana
Theodore Melfi ( Hidden Figures)
The Weinstein Company
October 10, 2014
February 17, 2015