“On the Rocks” Movie Review


     Writer/director Sofia Coppola demonstrated 17 years ago how to get the most out of Bill Murray as a leading man in a film that while utilizing his comedic strengths, still manages to explore themes which are more serious in tone.  That film, Best Original Screenplay winner “Lost in Translation”, explored the budding friendship between a once successful actor and the lonely wife of a photographer as the two find themselves spiraling downward in life while staying in the same Tokyo hotel.  Murray excelled outside of his 80s funnyman persona for the first time, while still embracing the charm and wit that had cemented him as one of our many cinematic icons. 

     “On the Rocks” sees Coppola and Murray collaborating once again and in similar territory, telling the story of a wife who suspects her husband of cheating, as her father swoops in to aid in the investigation. And like “Lost in Translation”, the story explores the many nuances of relationships at all levels and how the decisions we make individually can have an everlasting influence on generations to come.  It’s the fallout of these decisions that fuels the ambitions of everyone involved, where regrettable circumstances lead to emotionally charged bad judgements completely devoid of rational thought.  We’ve all been there.  And that’s why this film is likely to resonate with all of us.

     Laura (Rashida Jones), an aspiring writer, stays home to take care of the kids while her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), works long hours at the office, while in the kind of job that requires socializing with potential clients at swanky New York City clubs and restaurants.  And with his team being made up of young attractive assistants, such as his closest co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick), we quickly get the idea Laura has become uncomfortable with where their marriage is headed.  A thought she shares with her father, Felix (Bill Murray), a long time single Playboy whose reputation precedes itself amongst New York high society.

     We learn the circumstances of the long ago split between Laura’s mother and father were largely due to an affair Felix had with a younger woman.  And though she still maintains some semblance of a relationship with him, it’s clear nothing was ever the same after their family was torn apart in the manner that it was.  It’s almost cruel to believe the kids would ever accept the circumstances and simply move on, as you get the feeling there were never any consequences for the infidelity and the serious problems it caused their family for years.  And yet, with Laura now suspecting she may be a victim of the same, enlisting the help of Felix to uncover the truth appears to be her best option.

     What ensues is a series of cliched moments in a relationship where the pilot light is long since extinguished and the inconsistencies in day to day interactions become more glaring.  Is he thinking of another woman when he’s kissing me?  Why won’t he let me look at his phone?  Should I have an issue with him and his new assistant working late and meeting with clients?  Does he still find me attractive?  All of which are valid questions, particularly when your life centers around two kids the both of you created and are currently impeding you from achieving your own dreams as a writer.  But then there’s dad who comes along and not only agrees something is amiss, but takes it upon himself to lead an investigation.

     It’s no surprise Coppola’s script nails the instincts of a woman who finds herself in an anxiety inducing situation of marital mistrust, nor is the reaction of a father who himself once destroyed his family while exhibiting the same behavior.  Because of his own flaws, Felix inserts himself into the scenario as a sort of expert, counseling his daughter on the warning signs of which he knows all too well.  The resulting middle half of the film brings forth the kind of subtle hilarity Murray has made a career of, whether it’s his ability to run a red light and then talk his way out of the ticket when it turns out he knows the father and grandfather of the cop, or the hijinks of following Dean around town, seeking proof of an affair that would have an undeniable impact on the family for years to come.

     At this point, I’m convinced Bill Murray would be funny regardless of how serious the film’s subject matter is.  He doesn’t even have to try anymore. And his performance works perfectly with Rashida Jones’ portrayal of a woman attempting to navigate the potentially ugly situation she now sees as her future.  It’s also worth mentioning the solid contribution from Marlon Wayans, another funnyman trying his hand in a drama and turning in the best performance of his career as an often missing husband whose ambitions may have caused him to lose sight of what’s really important.  Coppola’s clever script and expert direction allows the cast to show enormous chemistry, led by Murray and Jones, but certainly with the many supporting players as well. 

     There’s an adventurous side to what happens in “On the Rocks”, along with a twist in the third act that sort of turns the entire situation upside down, but whether it’s Laura’s confusion when attempting to define the perfect marriage, or Felix’s desire to somehow come through for his daughter at a moment when she really needs him, the film is always about those imperfect ties that somehow continue to bind us.  And just how complicated those relationships can become when life becomes real. GRADE B+