Good-will matinee

Bill Murray and cast of lovable underdogs go through the paces in harmless feel-gooder

Saint Bill and his flock.

Saint Bill and his flock.

St. Vincent
Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Jaeden Lieberher. Directed by Theodore Melfi. Cinemark 14 and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

There’s some brash comedy in St. Vincent, but ultimately the prevailing humor is more on the sweet and sentimental side.

Much of the latter centers on the relationship that forms between the title character (a grizzled curmudgeon played by Bill Murray) and the sprightly grade-schooler named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) who moves in next door with his beleaguered mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy). And the brashness comes from Murray’s much-troubled Vincent as well as from an array of quirky secondary characters.

Writer-director Theodore Melfi gives us what might be termed an updated Frank Capra story, with an endearing set of underdog types confronting assorted social ills and finding various kinds of personal redemption in each other’s company. The film’s strongest appeal, however, is in its performances.

Murray brings a surprising number of expressive shadings to a familiar role—the rambunctiously grouchy derelict with a good heart. Naomi Watts does an unexpectedly rowdy turn as a pregnant Russian prostitute. Chris O’Dowd is charmingly comical as Brother Geraghty, a gentle and big-hearted teacher at the Catholic school in which the “part-Jewish” Oliver is newly enrolled.

There’s a nightmarish collection of social and domestic problems lurking just below the surface of this tale—broken families, alcohol and gambling addictions, schoolyard bullying, loan sharks, debilitating illness, embittered Vietnam vets, etc. All of that, ultimately, serves mainly as a kind of short-hand “realism”—bits of real-life sadness used mainly to heighten the sense of relief we’ll feel when the movie reaches its feel-good conclusions.

It’s an old formula, but it works well enough here that Melfi and company give themselves a kind of victory lap—while the final credits roll, Murray/Vincent goofs off in his ratty little backyard and sings along with a Bob Dylan tune playing on his walkman.