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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Being a Saint Doesn’t Mean You Were Never a Sinner
April 19, 2015

Vincent McKenna (Bill Murray) smokes, drinks, gambles, and curses.  He’s rude to his neighbors and cavorts with a prostitute.  Despite all these negative qualities, he is the title character in the Christopher Award-winning film “St. Vincent.” So what exactly is saintly about him?

First, consider this.  There’s a book by Thomas Craughwell about actual canonized saints called “Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints.” In other words, being a saint doesn’t mean you were never a sinner.

Vincent’s got the sinning down, but it takes a deeper look to find the potential saint within. That potential is eventually spotted by Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), the 12-year-old son of the newly divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), both of whom move in next door to Vincent.  They all begin their relationship on a sour note, but fate eventually forces them to become a part of each other’s lives.

Though Vincent is a surly loner, Oliver grows on him.  There’s a good-heartedness to the kid that allows Vincent to care about him. Oliver soon learns that there is someone else Vincent cares about: his wife Sandy, who is living in a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s.  The tenderness and love with which Vincent interacts with Sandy is the antithesis of the persona he shows the world.  Oliver sees it too and starts to realize that first impressions aren’t always right. When Oliver is given the school assignment to pay tribute to someone he considers a modern-day saint, he chooses Vincent.  And though it may seem a stretch, that tribute becomes the emotional heart of the movie that will leave you nodding your head in agreement and maybe even tearing up a little.

Writer-director Theodore Melfi has created a thoroughly entertaining story with just enough edge to make it acceptable to mainstream audiences who might cringe at the thought of seeing a heartwarming redemption story.  And make no mistake, Vincent never loses his edge—though he becomes more open to the love of the makeshift family that comes to surround him.

On the Catholic front, I can’t think of any movies lately that have had as positive a portrayal of priests, Catholic schools, and the faith in general as “St. Vincent.”  In fact, Melfi was inspired to create this film after his daughter, who attends Catholic school, was given the assignment to write about an established saint and a contemporary one. Melfi makes Oliver’s teacher—a priest played by Chris O’Dowd—a funny, self-deprecating, holy man.  It was a refreshing change of pace to watch a story created by someone who has no ax to grind with the Church, but can instead appreciate its finer points and compassionate people.

So does Vincent actually achieve saintly holiness by the end of the film? Well, there’s a story from the Christopher News Note “From Sinners to Saints” that makes an important point. St. Callixtus, who died around 222 A.D., was originally an embezzler who lived in Rome. He came under the care and guidance of Pope St. Victor who held him in check but also showed him kindness. This approach gradually led Callixtus to repentance for his sins, then to the priesthood and even the papacy.  But before all that happened, someone had to have faith in him, to see the good in him.

Vincent McKenna has those kinds of people in his life at the end of the movie.  His future sainthood may not be so far-fetched after all.

 

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, FROM SINNERS TO SAINTS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org