On the Rocks. 2020
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Liyanna Muscat, Alexandra Mary Reimer, Anna Reimer, Barbara Bain, Juliana Canfield, Alva Chinn, Mike Keller, Musto Pelinkovicci, Zoe Bullock, Chase Sui Wonders, Elizabeth Guindi, Jules Willcox, and Ximena Lamadrid
A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
Initially, it’s strange that from press releases to the casting list itself, Bill Murray receives top billing and priority for a movie centering on a middle-aged author with writer’s block who also happens to be stressed out and suspecting that something is off within her marriage. When you sit down and actually watch On the Rocks (the latest feature from writer/director Sofia Coppola, once again collaborating with the aforementioned legendary Illinois born-and-bred comedian), the marketing becomes more clear as it’s one of Bill Murray’s strongest roles in recent memory. Not to take away anything from the rest of the cast and story, but his character is certain to be what sticks with audiences most
One night Laura (Rashida Jones, who is also quite good here) starts reciprocating physical affection from her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans, having somewhat of an Adam Sandler moment reminding us all once again that he is a terrific actor when he actually wants to be a part of something substantial, which is apparently once every decade and a half) upon his return from a London work trip. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived as he conks out on the bed shortly after, but weirdly enough it’s at the same time Laura vocalizes some of that affection. It’s as if Dean was so jetlagged and out of it, he was expecting her to be another woman.
Laura is not ready to hit the panic button right away; after all, Dean is still good with the kids and expresses that he does care even if he is busy most of the time. Nevertheless, she brings up the situation to her estranged father Felix (Bill Murray) who rather than showing concern almost feels excited by the possibility of some marital drama. When we are introduced to the character proper, Felix turns out to be a sexist, regressive thinking cynic who would be loathsome if it didn’t come in the form of Bill Murray’s undeniable charm. For as gross as some of his beliefs are (he frequently brings up odd beliefs that he pedals as both intellectually factual knowledge and a means to affirm his chauvinistic ideology), it’s sort of exactly what Laura needs to get in the mindset of Dean and figure out if all men really do have a one-track mind of lust with the incapability of happily sticking with one woman for eternity.
As Laura’s suspicions become stronger (she finds some belongings of a female coworker inside Dean’s luggage that he explains away as her not having enough space), she relays the information to Felix who in turn becomes more and more skeptical and amusingly unhinged as he goes as far as hiring a private detective to spy on Dean. It’s also made clear that Felix was no father or husband of the year himself, and that he is actually lonely inside, so as the hijinks ensue it becomes more of a question of does Felix really believe his daughter is being cheated on and how far is he willing to go to buy some more time with his daughter. There’s a light approach to this serious material, but it gels with Bill Murray’s performance as a lovable slimeball; it’s not long before father and daughter are going on stakeouts and finding themselves involved in police encounters that, of course, Felix can smooth talk his way out.
Whether or not On the Rocks attempts to heighten the drama too little or too late is another discussion entirely, but eventually the film and Laura does condemn Felix’s characteristics as pathetic. And that’s because they are. He’s the life of the party that’s never really grown up or set aside his selfishness. Despite that, watching father and daughter reconnect for these misadventures is actually sweet and occasionally hilarious. It doesn’t really matter whether Dean turns out to be committing adultery or not, as we just hope all of these people can grow as individuals and find their own happiness. It’s breezy work from Sofia Coppola that could probably stand to hit harder emotionally, but it does still hit while giving its three central performers fantastic material.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com