Posted on October 16, 2014 at 5:29 pmB
|Lowest Recommended Age:||Mature High Schooler|
|MPAA Rating:||Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language|
|Profanity:||Very strong and crude language|
|Alcohol/ Drugs:||Drinking, smoking, alcohol abuse|
|Violence/ Scariness:||Car accident, stroke, sad death, bullies, fighting|
|Diversity Issues:||Diverse characters|
|Date Released to Theaters:||October 17, 2014|
A crude, inconsiderate, bitter slacker — Bill Murray could play that in his sleep. And it would be pretty good. But he doesn’t. Bill Murray gives a beautiful, wise, complex performance as Vincent, an angry old man who drinks too much, smokes too much, gambles too much, pays a pregnant stripper for sex, and seems to get his only enjoyment from trying to make the rest of the world as miserable as he is.
Just as Vincent runs out of money, new neighbors move in next door. It is Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mom, and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie, who just left her husband and is working double shifts to pay for Oliver’s private school, is so desperate she is willing to pay Vincent to be Oliver’s babysitter. He is completely inappropriate in every way, taking Oliver to the racetrack and a bar and introducing him to a “lady of the night,” pregnant Russian stripper (Naomi Watts as Daka). And yet, he is able to provide Oliver with support he does not get anywhere else, especially when it comes to dealing with the school bully (Dario Barosso). Vincent’s acerbic take on the world is a bracing change of pace from the chaos and sadness in Oliver’s family and the feeling of being an outsider he gets from being a Jew in a Catholic school, even one with a sympathetic priest for a teacher (Chris O’Dowd) and classmates that include a Buddhist and an atheist. Oliver is in many ways the only real adult in the story, wise and unflappable as the grown-ups around him fail him and each other.
Writer-director Ted Melfi spend the first half of the movie showing us the pressure Vincent is under and his inability to deal with it. He is overdrawn at the bank and he owes money to a bookie (Terrence Howard). His house and car are falling apart and he is, too. He is callous, selfish, and rude. But then we begin to learn that he is capable of great kindness and devotion. He makes regular visits to Sandy (an exquisite performance by Donna Mitchell). She is a beautiful woman with loss of memory who lives in an assisted living facility. He does her laundry and dons a white jacket and stethoscope because she is comfortable thinking he is a doctor. Clearly, he is much more to her, but she does not remember and he does not want to rattle her. He also has a large white cat and seems to be very fond of it.
Meanwhile, Maggie is under a lot of pressure, too. When she gets called into the school after Oliver uses his new lessons from Vincent to hit the bully in the nose, she dissolves into tears. And Oliver’s father is suing her for custody, made much more difficult when he gives the court evidence of Vincent’s poor judgment as a babysitter.
It all comes together a little too sweetly. Even the bully and the grouchy stripper get happy endings. Oliver, while beautifully played by Lieberher, is too good to be true. But Murray’s performance, especially as Vincent recovers from an illness, is never anything less than real, brave, and beautifully observed, and McCarthy, in a largely dramatic role, is outstanding as well. This is a promising debut from Melfi and a quiet little gem.
Parents should know that this film is the story of a man who subjects a child to inappropriate behavior and experiences. It includes very strong and crude language for a PG-13, a stripper and prostitute, an explicit sexual situation, a child exposed to drinking, gambling, and sex work, and a custody battle with references to infidelity.
Family discussion: Who would you pick as your “saint?” Why was Vincent so nice to Sandy and so mean to everyone else?
If you like this, try: “Little Miss Sunshine”