ON THE ROCKS ½
2020, R, 96 mins.
Rashida Jones as Laura / Bill Murray as Felix / Marlon Wayans as Dean / Jenny Slate as Vanessa / Jessica Henwick as FionaWritten and directed by Sofia Coppola
There's a sly
and effective moment midway through writer/director Sophia Coppola's caper
comedy ON THE ROCKS (now streaming via Apple TV+) that showcases star Bill
Murray at the absolute zenith of his wily on-screen charm.
His character in
Felix (with his daughter Laura - Rashida Jones -
in tow in the passenger seat) are pulled over in the middle of the
night in downtown Manhattan by police officers.
The soon-to-be ticketing officer asks him for his license and
registration, but soon gets easily frustrated when the rascally Felix
doesn't seem too interested in doing so, much to Laura's dismay.
The officer asks Felix to get out of his Italian sports car
convertible, after which he notices the arresting cop's badge name and
matter-of-factly informs him that he has known his dad for a long time,
further showering him for his good man stature.
Felix even offers to call the officer's father right there on the
spot. Not wanting to cause
any trouble, the officer asks Felix to hold the call, and seems impressed
and flattered by his observations about his dear old dad.
Not only does Felix's low key charisma get him out of a ticket, be
he even manages to get the officer to help give his car a jump so they can
be on their way.
This moment is
so sublimely priceless, but it also serves to remind me that it's been an
awfully long time since Murray and Coppola have worked together (not since
2003's wonderful LOST IN TRANSLATION, which netted Murray some of his best
reviews of his career). The prospect of having them re-combine their creative efforts
again after a 17 year absence is cause enough to get cinephiles salivating
at the mouths, and the best thing that I will say about their new fangled
partnership in ON THE ROCKS is that Murray is indeed the finest thing
occupying it. I
remember looking back on Murray's performance in LOST IN TRANSLATION
recently with continued admiration, but his character here in ON THE ROCKS
is quite different: less wounded, less melancholic and world weary, and
more joyously extroverted and rebellious.
When Murray finally appears on screen, Coppola's film generates a
real electrifying pulse of intrigue. He simply captures our attention. Regretfully, though, if you strip away the actor's presence
and Coppola's astute eye behind the camera then all we're really left with
here is a pretty disposable and paint-by-numbers story of a woman's
suspicions of her husband's possible infidelity.
ON THE ROCKS lacks substance and is perhaps too lightweight and
insubstantial for its own good, which is a small shame coming off of
Coppola's career rejuvenating last film in THE
The film opens
with an ominously amusing voiceover track of what appears to be Felix
giving some stern fatherly advice to a much younger Laura: "Don't
give your heart to any boys. You're mine...until you get married. Then you're still mine."
We then flash forward to modern day New York an are introduced to
Jones' Laura, who's a struggling author attempting to get her first book
off of the ground while trying to navigate the daily grind of motherhood
(when not staring at an empty laptop screen she's tending to her kids'
every need as a stay-at-home mom). Her
husband, on the other hand, in Dean (a refreshingly low key Marlon Wayans)
is seeing his career making multiple quantum leaps forward with every new
workday, leaving him almost as an absentee father/husband because of his
office grind. Beyond the continued aggravation of continually not seeing
her husband enough, she begins to resent the amount of time that he's
spending with his attractive colleague in Fiona (Jessica Henwick), which
begins to fuel her paranoia about his faithfulness.
Of course, when
she calls her dad in Felix he's instantly on the side of Dean being a
womanizingr cheat that can't be trusted (mostly because Felix knows the
cheating mindset of his gender from experience).
Laura casually brushes him off at first, but then she discovers
women's toiletries in Dean's luggage one day after a business trip.
She politely confronts him on it, but he seems calm spoken and
rational in his logical explanation.
Laura remains conflicted, but her dad still thinks he smells an
easy rat. When her birthday
approaches and Dean confesses that he'll be too busy with work to attend
any festivities, Laura turns back to her loving, control freak of a
father, which causes him to spring to action.
He coaxes Laura into checking Dean's phone...then his texts...and
then into tailing him throughout Manhattan one night...and so on and so
What then emerges
in ON THE ROCKS is a road trip-like comedy of errors through the darkened
city streets, with Felix and Laura snooping on Dean's every move, hoping
to catch him at his absolute lecherous worth.
For the most part, I liked the fact that this is a unique brand of
dramedy that focuses on father/daughter dynamics (which has an added meta
quality as well, seeing as Coppola is the offspring of her very famous and
iconic director dad in Francis). So
many other witless examples of this genre show troubled women confiding in
other women that may or may not be good for them, as Laura does have some,
including Vanessa (a quite funny Jenny Slate), who's so annoyingly
egocentric in her own hedonistic concerns that it all but forces Laura to
seek out her dad for emotional solace.
The core relationship here between dad and daughter isn't always a
squeaky clean one (she harbors deep hesitations at first in terms of
giving in to his novel form of advice), but she nevertheless feels that
he's on to something about Dean's trustworthiness, despite the fact that
Felix's own past shows him to be a flamboyant troublemaker in his
And Jones is
really solid here as her career frustrated and deeply wary wife that wants
to trust her husband, but is simply given too many social curveballs thrown
her way that makes her plant deep seeds of doubt.
Jones plays her with such quiet spoken sadness that gives the film
some understated heartache. Then,
of course, there's her daddy in Billy, and this may be just another Murray
role on pure autopilot that the veteran can do in his sleep (the flippant
rule breaker that's so warm and inviting with his deadpan wit), but even
at the ripe old age of 70 he's capable of finding new hidden layers to
this part. Plus, let's face
it, he's so damn good playing parts like Felix, who in turn is an
interesting walking contradiction as far as role models go.
He accuses Dean of cheating, even though he's a hopeless flirt and
more than a bit predatory with women half of his age.
But, damn it, he's such an affable scoundrel here, which is why
Laura seems constantly drawn into his tractor beam-like influential
vortex. Plus, since he was an
adulterer himself he knows how adulterers operate, which makes Laura trust
his judgment more as the film progresses.