Synopsis: A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
Stars: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jenny Slate
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Let’s have it out right now at the start so we can move on. I’m not a fan of Lost in Translation and I don’t get it’s appeal. Whew. There, I said it and I feel better. Do you? Sorry, but that film just didn’t land with me and I know I like a bunch of movies that may leave you wondering if I have a sane bone in my body but Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning screenplay left me freezing. I guess I could watch it again and see if my mood on it has changed but…I just don’t think so. Her subsequent films have been a mixed bag too, with 1999’s The Virgin Suicides being right on target and Marie Antoinette making 2005 buzz with its charisma and style. I was marginally sold on The Bling Ring but less enthused with her remake of The Beguiled, which is all to say that I approached her new film On the Rocks (which has been playing in theaters and now premieres on Apple+) very carefully.
The story of an almost-40 New York mother of two (Rashida Jones, The Sound of Silence) who suspects her busy husband (Marlon Wayans, The Heat) of cheating on her with his co-worker could have easily been another in a long line of crestfallen big city women in crisis movies that you’d rent from Redbox and then forget about forever. Yet Coppola has made one of the more interesting films of the year by casting one of the more interesting actors working today and giving him his best role in quite some time. That moves On the Rocks from the watch it and forget it column to the watch it, talk about it, think about it, tell all your friends about how good Bill Murray is in it sort of deal.
At first, Laura (Jones) isn’t sure her successful husband Dean has strayed in their marriage. A half-awake Dean has returned from a lengthy flight and when he flops into bed and she greets him, he appears surprised to hear her voice. She actually writes off the incident and even believes the rational reason he provides when she finds the make-up bag for his co-worker in his luggage. Then she has lunch with her retired art-dealer dad Felix (Murray, Moonrise Kingdom) and that’s when he plants the germ of a seed of doubt in her mind and proceeds to help her nurture it. A notorious womanizer that has struggled to stay faithful himself, he seems to know what he’s talking about. Even though Laura doesn’t want to believe the hard to believe signs, maybe her dad is right…but does she want to risk her marriage on a hunch?
Coppola’s film is mainly a drama, a family drama no-less, but there are elements of a number of different genres present. It’s a buddy film in the way that Laura leans on Felix for support during this strange period of her life as it doesn’t appear she has any female friends she can open up to, surely not the self-involved women (including a scene-stealing Jenny Slate, Zootopia) at her children’s school. There’s a road trip adventure quality to it as well when Felix convinces Laura to follow Dean to Mexico to surprise him on a co-workers only trip in the hopes of finding him with another woman. It’s a mystery too, as the audience is never quite sure how allegiant Felix is to his daughter – we feel like he wants the best for her but it’s also clear that for as much shameless flirting and grandstanding gladhanding as he does, she may be his only true connection and if she remains so devoted to Dean where does that leave him?
I wish Coppola had a bit more to say about these relationships in her wrap-up because the conclusion is definitely nowhere near as interesting as the carefully laid out (and highly enjoyable) first ¾ of the movie. There is a feeling too that had Wayans been a more dynamic actor the stakes may have been raised a bit higher. As it stands he’s just not on the same level as Jones who in turn isn’t at the same level as Murray. So you have three different actors all at differing levels of range – sometimes that doesn’t make a difference but in emotionally fueled movies like On the Rocks it does become part of a make or break discussion. Murray is fantastic, easily the best and brightest he’s been in years – fingers crossed he gets some recognition for this effort – and I hope Coppola continues to explore this side of her narrative storytelling. Just work on the ending.