by Addison Cooper, LCSW
Maggie gets more than she bargained for when she moves next door to Vincent. Maggie, the divorced mother of 12-year-old Oliver, initially experiences Vincent as a crass, rude crank. When she finds herself stuck in a difficult situation, needing to remain at work while Oliver is locked out of the house, she begs Vincent to watch Oliver for her. Vincent needs money, so he agrees begrudgingly. Vincent isn’t much of a babysitter. He teaches Oliver to gamble at the race tracks, and introduces him to Daka, a woman who he has paid as a prostitute but who has decided to become his housekeeper instead.
Oliver is a very polite young man, but he is picked on at school. Vincent sees Oliver getting bullied and threatens his bullies. Later, Vincent teaches Oliver to fight.
Vincent suffers a surprising health issue. While hospitalized, he realizes that Daka, Oliver, and Maggie all care for him. He still pushes them away, and eventually ostracizes almost everyone. It’d be easy for Maggie and Oliver to try to walk away from that relationship. However, Oliver has a school assignment to research a living saint, and the school has defined a saint as “a person we celebrate for their commitment to others.” Because of Vincent’s positive impact in his life, Oliver decides to learn about Vincent. What he learns challenges others’ (and our) preconceptions of Vincent.
Largely because of Oliver’s sensitivity, we learn that Vincent is much deeper than just the neighborhood crank. Oliver says, “If you dig deeper, you see beyond his flaws.”
Vincent also has some untapped wisdom. When someone close to Vincent dies, Oliver tells him, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I like the brief conversation that follows. Vincent asks, “Why say that?” Oliver explains that it’s something to say when you’re “not sure what else to say.” And Vincent says something surprisingly wise: “What about, ‘What was she like?’ or ‘Do you miss her?’ or ‘What are you going to do now?’”
St. Vincent is an interesting, thought-provoking, and well-acted movie. Some of the content makes it a bad choice for most kids, but I think it is worth seeing for parents and older teens. It highlights the truth that people are often deeper than they seem. One of my favorite thoughts in any book I’ve read comes from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” series – that if you fully know and understand a person, you will be bound to love that person. St. Vincent captures that thought pretty clearly.
It’s a particularly relevant thought for our work as social workers, too. Sometimes, we work with people who present poorly. It’s tempting to define people by their symptoms, and to see them only in the light of their actions. It’s easy to get frustrated and discount people when their behaviors don’t make sense – but all behaviors make sense within some contexts, and if we could get to know someone, we might feel differently toward them, and approach our work with them with more grace. Sometimes, we aren’t able to have that knowledge of a client, and so we have the choice to either treat them as our reactions dictate, or take it on faith that we would judge them more gently if we understood them, and then act according to that more gracious position. One choice is better than the other.
Addison Cooper, MSW, LCSW, is the creator of Adoption at the Movies adoption movie review website (www.adoptionlcsw.com). He is a foster care and adoption supervisor and therapist in Southern California. Find him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies and follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper.