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TIFF 2014: Bill Murray shines, but saints all around in 'St. Vincent's'

TIFF 2014: Bill Murray shines, but saints all around in 'St. Vincent's'
Thunderstorms didn't dampen "St. Vincent" costars Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy's mood. (Evan Agostini)

Most of the buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival about the intriguing tear-jerk of “St. Vincent” has centered on the performance of the much beloved Bill Murray.

Don’t get me wrong, praise for Murray's performance as Vincent is certainly well deserved. As we've come to count on over the years, the actor is a consistently interesting, and frequently adorable, irritant whether the films be great or small. Think "What About Bob" retitled "What About Bill."

But part of the movie’s magic is its supporting cast. Yes, I know director Ted Melfi keeps calling "St. Vincent" an ensemble piece, but the ensemble happens to have a white-hot center in Murray.

And yet.

To Melfi's point, there are grand performances all around. So a shout out to:

Naomi Watts. As a pregnant Russian stripper, Watt is a wrecking-ball. Suffering no fools, including a certain cranky old one named Vincent. When asked after the premiere how she prepared to play opposite the legendary actor – she said she was terrified so the best strategy was “to be terrifying” in facing her fear. Chalk one up for the pregnant pole dancer.

Chris O’Dowd. He's hard not to love in everything. His stages haven't been as big, but I do wonder if he might turn out to be a next generation Bill Murray with an Irish accent? Though he would have to work on his crank factor. In "St. Vincent," he's playing the loveable-funny angle perfectly. His priest is the kind of sharp-witted but easy going Catholic school Brother you want molding young minds.

Young Jaeden Lieberher is wise-yet-wide-eyed wonderful as Oliver, the neighbor boy Vincent starts babysitting to pay his gambling debts. We will be seeing much more of this lad.

And now to Melissa McCarthy. A moment of silence please.

Because that’s what the actress, known for her brash over-the-top comedy, does so remarkably in “St. Vincent.” She breathes. She pulls everything back, choosing understatement again and again. And to great effect. The actress makes her single mother’s struggles empathetic, endearing. Watching out for Oliver in such fine fashion, McCarthy brings some serious new shades to her craft. Very cool.

As charmingly warm and heartfelt as the movie and the performances are, it might not be enough to qualify for Hollywood sainthood, but it certainly proves to be the perfect ensemble to surround one of the archangels of acting.

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