Bill Murray, Naomi Watts, David Einhorn: Scene Last Night

Bill Murray is an endearing hot mess in his new movie “St. Vincent,” which had a fancy New York screening at the Ziegfeld Theater last night.

As the film opens, Murray as Vincent of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, smokes, drinks and is out of money, leaving him unable to pay a pretty, funny and pregnant pole dancer with a heavy Russian accent, played brilliantly by Naomi Watts.

But he’s about to be rehabilitated, thanks to Oliver, the boy who moves next door (Jaeden Lieberher) with his single mom (Melissa McCarthy). Oliver’s teacher (Chris O’Dowd) and the pole dancer also assist in the road to the sainthood of the title, which has Murray donning a smoke-ring halo in the movie poster.

The moral of the story: it’s not a bad idea to talk to your neighbors -- or, for that matter, to teach a scrawny kid how to break a bully’s nose.

The first film from director and screenwriter Theodore Melfi is sappy yet gritty, showing the financial and emotional stresses of an aging Vietnam vet.

“The people sounded like real people,” Murray said of his first reading of the script.

One of the only bright spots of Vincent’s situation is that as a veteran, he has health insurance, though it can’t pay for his wife’s extended stay in an assisted-living facility.

Veterans’ Challenges

“In my mind, what we do to veterans is completely unacceptable,” Melfi said in a red-carpet interview. “They go and they serve, and they come back and we don’t support them. This movie is about a guy who’s actually won medals in war, and how his life has just kind of faded away. I wanted to call attention to that. We need to do more and do better. I’m not saying anything that anyone else isn’t saying, that’s the consciousness we need to get with.”

Harvey Weinstein introduced the film.

“My choice for saint is Saint Ted,” Weinstein said referring to Melfi, before taking a seat near Len and Emily Blavatnik.

Murray, for his part, insisted on giving Melfi a hard time.

“I have two bags of popcorn, not because the film is that long, but there was no telling when a first-time director would shut up,” Murray said.

Einhorn’s Foundation

“When I was at Cornell, I volunteered as a Big Brother,” David Einhorn, founder of Greenlight Capital, said by phone yesterday from the university’s Sage Hall. “What we’re looking to do is far more ambitious.”

“This” is a plan to make public engagement a requirement at the Ivy League university in Ithaca, New York, rather than count on students to seek such experiences in extracurriculars or during the summer.

The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust has committed $50 million over 10 years to the project, which developed out of a strategic plan published four years ago.

“A lot of times when somebody tries to bring a change to an institution, particularly a large institution, it’s extremely difficult because you run into different considerations and agendas of people who are already there,” Einhorn said. “This is four years of back and forth. As each iteration has happened, and more people have become involved, there’s been an expansion of the vision.”

Initially, the trust, led by Einhorn and his wife, Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, funded a study. Then in 2011, it helped create the Center for Community Engaged Learning + Research, which among other things, maintains a list of courses that “move the educational process beyond the classroom physically and intellectually,” according to its website.

Ethical Practice

The courses include Research and Strategy in Emerging Markets; Experiential Garden-Based Learning in Belize; and Iran and the World.

At the launch event at Cornell’s art museum, the university’s president, David Skorton, said the Einhorns’ $50 million gift will be used to attract an additional $100 million for “dramatically scaling up” efforts already in place.

Some of the funding will help some 500 professors develop courses so that every undergraduate department will offer a community-engaged learning experience, Skorton said at the launch, a video of which is posted on Cornell’s web site. Other funding will develop assessments to measure learning outcomes such as civic engagement, critical reflection and ethical practice, Skorton said.

Past examples of organized activities include engineering students designing a water-treatment plant in a Honduran village, and sociology students working with nonprofits on the Hopi reservation in Arizona.

SEC Intern

Einhorn, also at the kickoff, said Engaged Cornell fits with the mission of his family’s trust to build “a society where the norm is for people to get along.” Focusing on college students makes sense, he added, because it’s a time when young people can think about not just what they want to do, but “who they want to be when they grow up.”

Through working in the community, students build diverse relationships that help them “develop empathy and respect,” Einhorn said.

There are also practical skills to be gained from going off-campus, as Einhorn himself did by spending a semester in Washington, D.C. interning for academic credit at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It provided me with a sense of structure,” Einhorn said.

“Just getting up every day and showing up on time for work, way earlier than most of my courses ever started.”

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