Murray’s most recent starring role does not tread new territory, yet still manages to warm audience’s hearts along the way. Stories about a jerk with a heart of gold who bonds with young kids have been covered endlessly (Win Win, Up and Uncle Buck to name a few). That said, this one still manages to stand out for a pretty obvious reason.
Casting all around is pretty good for this feature, but the stand out performance is obviously Bill Murray. Vincent, an alcoholic, whore-mongering gambling addict, couldn’t have been made so lovable by many others. Not unlike Gran Torino, part of what makes him so amusing and enjoyable is how miserably he treats the people around him, even when they don’t deserve it. There seems to be something generally funny about seeing innocent folk getting taken down a peg. That said, this character still needs to be redeemed for his bad behaviour, and that’s where the plot kicks in.
Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), move next door to Vincent during a rather stressful divorce. On his first day of school, Oliver’s locker gets robbed and he has no way back into his house while his mom works late. Upon being promised money, Vincent lets the kid stay at his place, thus putting a series of babysitting adventures into motion.
Vincent’s idea of taking care of a kid involves getting drunk at bars and going to the track (unlike Uncle Buck, not only does Vincent not feel guilt for taking him there, but the film seems to support the venture by letting them both win the jackpot). Through these escapades, Vincent gets Oliver to come out of his shell, while likewise, Oliver slowly cracks through Vincent’s hard and abrasive exterior. There’s a lot of heart in these scenes and their chemistry provides the film with a lot of its humour.
Aside from our two main characters, the rest of the film is smattered with good performances all around. Vincent’s confidant and semi-assistant, the pregnant hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Daka (Naomi Watts) continues the theme of finding treasures in disrespected common people. The already mentioned Melissa McCarthy has some fairly funny scenes of bantering with Vincent and venting to her son’s school’s administrators, but otherwise is mostly absent from this feature (despite her appearance on the poster). Some nice additions to the cast are the presences of Terrance Howard as a loan shark who is frenemies with Vincent, and Chris O’Dowd provides additional comic relief as an Irish priest/teacher.
While the majority of the plot is just about the two main characters bettering each other by hanging out, the side plots (both dealing with Vincent’s debt) lend the drama to this “dramedy”. Later on in the film, Vincent brings Oliver along to the lush retirement home where he gives almost all of his money to house his wife with Alzheimer’s. He keeps her a secret to most and apparently visits her weekly even though she doesn’t remember him at all. Most of the funding he musters for this comes from his frequent gambling which has put him on the hit list of his loan shark’s collector.
The end of this feature does tend to get a little sentimental. Vincent suffers a massive stroke while the loan sharks are bullying him. Fearing he is dead, the thugs scatter, which conveniently ends that side plot and bridges into the final act. His friends gather together to better his living scenario while he grumpily recovers his abilities in the hospital. When he finally does come home, Maggie has learned the details of Oliver and Vincent’s getaways, which both hinders the results of her divorce and results in an inevitable falling out before the feature’s conclusion.
While a lot of sappiness, forced conflicts and clichés occur in the third act, one that I fully stand by is the big emotional speech at the end. This is one of the biggest damn clichés you’ll ever see in emotional dramedies; sometimes it is done right and will leave you in tears (About Schmidt), and sometimes it is overly schmaltzy and will fall flat (every Robin William’s comedy-drama). This one didn’t quite have me welling up but there is definitely a lot of swelling emotion in the big finale. Oliver spends a lot of time preparing has school project where he describes an everyday Saint. Choosing Vincent, he tricks him into showing up to the presentation where he lists all his flaws but then proves how selfless he really is. This neatly wraps up the forced conflict, redeems the main character and reiterates the theme of finding real value in hidden everyday people.
I would describe this as an adorable “family” feature if it weren’t for the random occurrences of profanity and sex. While I won’t quite put it on the pedestal of comedy favorites like Uncle Buck, it will pull a few heartstrings while providing quite a few legitimate laughs. If this one slipped past you last year, take the time to give it a view. You won’t regret it.