Cherubic kid saves grizzled curmudgeon. This scenario has been a staple of the big screen since time immemorial. Yawn, right? Oh, did I mention the lovable hooker with a heart? Gah! The frazzled single mom? Gag. When I saw the previews for this film I actually groaned out loud wondering just how many stereotypes could be jam-packed into a single film. Still, I couldn’t escape from the generous ratings and praise it kept receiving, and had to see for myself what this little tale had to offer. Thank Heaven, I did.
Granted, the linchpin is none other than Bill Murray himself cast in the title role. It’s no secret that Murray is a comedic genius, and any other actor portraying the old drunken bastard whose holiness is hidden and the film would have been a Hot Holly Hobby Mess. That said, the film’s true integrity comes in the form of Melissa McCarthy whose real talent is often hidden behind fat jokes and potty humor. When she vomited her vitriol at her philandering ex-husband at the parent-teacher conference, her performance was so organic and perfectly delivered, I was gut-punched and had to pause the film to catch my breath. The fact that she isn’t overshadowed by Murray’s on-screen brilliance is a feat in and of itself. Kudos to McCarthy. I pray she gets more roles worthy of her enormous talent.
This film has its critics, especially those who find it formulaic and even the naysayers who warn of the “bad parenting” it encourages. These viewers are sadly missing the entire point of the film.Yes, the plot may be predictable, but it’s never saccharine. The raw, gritty underbelly makes sure to keep any overly sentimental tripe in check. Anyone who’s dealt with PTSD or alcoholism (or both) will feel the authenticity of Murray’s claustrophobic performance. And frankly, I find it refreshing to see a current film that isn’t afraid to even mention religion without demeaning it and still manage to remind us that even the worst of us have worth and something of value to offer society without sermonizing.
Experienced moviegoers may be offended by the slightly sappy soundtrack — but it’s not just a rookie mistake. It’ll be nice when directors finally realize that they needn’t outline what’s happening on screen with their perfectly timed auditory cheat-sheets.
I expect we’ll be seeing more from director Melfi who was smart to “play it safe” with a time-proven plot and managing to pull such far-reaching talent into his project because it worked, and worked very, very well. Be aware that this isn’t just a “feel-good” flick. It has shrewd grit and gusto between the hardy (and hearty) laughs.