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dir-scr Theodore Melfi
prd Peter Chernin, Fred Roos, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping
with Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Dario Barosso, Kimberly Quinn, Lenny Venito, Nate Corddry, Ann Dowd, Scott Adsit
release US 17.Oct.14, UK 5.Dec.14
14/US Weinstein 1h43
Role models: McCarthy, Lieberher and Watts
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Writer-director Melfi has a remarkably assured hand with his first film, carefully crafting it into an involving, funny, emotional punchy drama that leaves the audience with plenty to chew on. Although for a movie about a cantankerous grump, it's rather too tidy. Thankfully, the actors add a scruffy edge to their characters.
In a New York suburb, grouchy loner Vincent (Murray) is having a bad day when he meets new neighbour Maggie (McCarthy), who has taken bright son Oliver (Lieberher) and left her unfaithful husband (Adsit). Working late hours, she reluctantly agrees to let Oliver stay with Vincent after school. Oliver is one of the few people Vincent can stand to be around, aside from his sassy cat Felix and his pregnant Russian hooker-stripper companion Daka (Watts). But when Vincent teaches Oliver to fight and play the horses, questions arise about his suitability as a role model.
Of course, the film's obvious point is that a person isn't bad just because he smokes, drinks, swears, gambles and consorts with prostitutes. Vincent's fiercely loyal side is evident from the start, both in the way he treats Daka and in his trips to his wife's nursing home. Melfi makes the most of this juxtaposition, mainly because nothing is lost on Oliver. And the film's one wrong step is the presence of a threatening loan shark (Howard), whose plot struggles to build up steam.
The film works better when it sticks to Oliver, the story's strongly beating heart. Lieberher is a remarkably present young actor, bouncing off his costars beautifully. This includes scenes with his teacher (O'Dowd) and the class bully (Barosso). And he gives McCarthy some of her best on-screen moments in years. He also creates terrific chemistry with Murray, who shines in a role that plays to his strengths as an actor while also stretching him to put a bit more edge beneath that bluster.
All of this comes together in a final act that plays essentially as we know it must, but it's so sharply written and acted that it can't help but get under the skin. It's refreshing to be reminded that appearances offer little insight into someone's character, and while Melfi works perhaps a little too hard to create a lively makeshift family around Vincent, he succeeds in reminding us that sometimes it's the person who annoys us the most who is also the most important.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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