Bill Murray shines in Sofia Coppola's breezy, featherweight caper On the Rocks: Review
In a directing career spanning more than 20 years, Sofia Coppola has made a sort of specialty of loneliness, her disparate characters — from suicidal virgins and let-them-eat-cake queens to middle-aged movie stars adrift in Tokyo — all searching for some deeper connection. (Even the larcenous Los Angeles teens of 2013’s The Bling Ring might have traded their purloined Birkin bags for a little genuine parental attention; or not).
On the Rocks’ premise seems at first to fall easily in line: A frazzled New York mother named Laura (Rashida Jones), her days an endless roundelay of sippy cups and school drop-offs, is more convinced every day that her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), might be stepping out on her. Between work and sleep and caring for their two young kids, they operate more like a pit crew than a couple, with Laura — a blocked writer taunted by a book contract she can barely stand to look at — bearing the brunt of everyday parenting. How can her domestic realities compete with the late nights and leggy Gen-Z nymphets at Dean’s advertising firm?
There's another man in her life more than happy to offer his opinions on all that: her father Felix (Bill Murray) a confirmed bachelor and bon vivant whose career as an international art dealer still seems to allow generous time for field trips and shenanigans. Marital intrigue is clearly catnip to Felix, even if commitment otherwise eludes him as a concept. So it doesn’t take long until he’s pulling up in his candy-apple Alfa Romeo with a caviar picnic, ready to turn a night of spousal recon into a rolling cocktail party for two.
The story itself, with its gorgeous interiors and jazzy Chet Baker soundtrack, turns out to be a bit of a wisp, a dandelion puff tossed to the gods of romance and prime Manhattan real estate. But if the emotional stakes never really seem all that crucial (love wins, in the end), Murray brings his own cosmic weight. At 70, the down-turned spaniel eyes and twanging Midwestern lilt remain undimmed; so does his magnetic effect on doormen and waitresses and passing ballerinas.
It's a long-awaited reunion of sorts too, and there are unmissable echoes in his performance of Lost in Translation, the 2003 drama whose delicate melancholy revealed a Murray most moviegoers had never seen: lonesome, vulnerable, tender at the root. His Felix is a breezier, more slippery character, but he susses out the layers; shades of mortality and regret pulling at the corners of that puckish, here’s-looking-at-you-kiddo grin.
That he steals the film so thoroughly is not so much a knock on Jones, who has a lovely naturalistic presence. But in skimming so lightly across a narrative that at least on its surface lands closer to her own than any movie she’s made before — mid-life New York artist and mother, standing in the shadow of a towering parent — Coppola seems almost glad to hand it to him, trading the harder knocks Rocks might have delivered for a brighter, slighter fizz. B