On the Rocks (M, 96mins) Directed by Sofia Coppola ****
Seventeen years after helping him to an Oscar nomination, Sofia Coppola might have just handed Bill Murray one of the greatest roles of his career.
The now 70-year-old comedian is at his charismatic best as a bon vivant former art gallery owner and concerned parent in this delightful dramedy.
The cause of his Felix’s angst is daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), a published author and mother-of-two girls. Stuck in a rut – she’s regretting have sold the rights to her latest book before she’d written it – Laura is also worried that husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is losing interest in her. He’s currently “crushing it” at work and travelling a lot, as his company expands. The discovery of a women’s toiletries case in his luggage certainly doesn’t help her demeanour, especially when Dean simply informs her that it’s his assistant’s, who didn’t have room in her own bag.
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While others attempt to ally Laura’s concerns with assurances that Dean is “such a good guy and adores you”, Felix advises her to “check his text messages” asap. “He should be worshipping the ground you walk on, and, if not, you need to know.”
Out of town for Laura’s birthday, Dean’s stocks sink even lower when his main gift is a “Thermomix”. To make matters worse, Felix’s sources have informed him Dean was spotted at Cartier.
“I never missed a birthday,” Felix sympathetically, but smugly says.
“Yeah, but you had other shortcomings,” she retorts.
Tonally very much a companion piece to Lost in Translation, On the Rocks also feels like a comedic take on Eyes Wide Shut, as Laura and Felix search the streets of New York for evidence of infidelity. While the stakes feel rightly serious, the marital drama is leavened by Murray’s character’s “old school” view of the world. Oozing charm and with a friendly word for all he encounters (except his son-in-law), he brings a compelling energy to every scene that he’s in, whether it is teaching his grandkids how to shuffle and bluff while drinking egg cremes and watching Breaking Bad, or tailing Dean’s Uber in his less-than-reliable (or inconspicuous) convertible. A subsequent encounter with the police has to be one of the funniest scenes of 2020.
For her part, Jones (Parks and Recreation) proves to be a more than admirable foil, calling Felix out on his hypocrisy, but also delivering genuine emotion and believability as a woman feeling lost and rudderless.
Coppola’s script strikes a nice balance between the deeper, darker moments and lighter, frothier fare. In fact, if it didn’t boast Coppola’s trademark soundtrack flourishes and unique sense of space and place (here, key scenes take place in a series of well-known New York night spots), you’d swear this had been crafted by the great Norah Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail).
In the end, how much you love On the Rocks inevitably depends on your affection for the sometimes infuriatingly enigmatic Murray. Me, I’ve been a fan, from his early Caddyshack days, through the delights of Rushmore and Broken Flowers, to his vocal work in 2018’s Isle of Dogs.
“It must be nice to be you,” Laura says to her father here. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” comes the smooth reply. On this evidence (and performance), neither should On the Rock’s audience.
On the Rocks debuts on Apple TV+ today, October 23.