(out of 5)
The relationship between a young boy and a mean old man begins without much promise when an accident brings them together, a moving truck damaging the tree in Bill Murray‘s front yard as Melissa McCarthy and her little boy are attempting to move in next door. He’s a filthy curmudgeon who drinks, smokes and keeps company with a Russian stripper (a miscast Naomi Watts) and she is working day and night to support herself and her child after leaving her philandering husband. When the young boy (played by an endlessly sympathetic Jaeden Lieberher) ends up in Murray’s care, the two of them strike up a friendship that helps the little guy navigate his way through his parents’ painful divorce, the bullies at school and even a few trips to the horse races. There is little about this latest in a long line of riffs on Cassavetes’ Gloria that really sets it apart from the crowd, right down to its sappy public-confession ending and predictable scenes of hijinks, but it does have its shining moments. Murray attempts to create a new kind of burnout than the ones he by now is doing in his sleep by employing a tinny New York accent, an effective but disingenuous move that barely disguises that this role was tailor made for him (even if it was written for a now-retired Jack Nicholson), but the laughs that come from his truly terrible behavior are plentiful and director Theodore Melfi never lets up on just how inappropriate he is. The real surprise is an effective McCarthy, whose timing and sympathetic personality is employed far more powerfully in the restraint she shows here than the indulgence of her ragged and unwatchable Tammy. Between her moving vulnerability and the honesty of many of the characters’ interactions it is worth watching for anyone who wants to see it, but familiar is still familiar even when it is done well, so don’t be surprised if you forget it as soon as it is done.
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Screenplay by Theodore Melfi
Cinematography by John Lindley
Music by Theodore Shapiro
Production Design by Inbal Weinberg
Costume Design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone