[Review] ‘ON THE ROCKS’ features top shelf Bill Murray in a meandering but uplifting new Sofia Coppola film

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James Clay // Film Critic

ON THE ROCKS

Rated R, 97 minutes.
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray and Marlon Wayans,

The very famous and cool director Sofia Coppola is back with ON THE ROCKS. Starring Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, and Marlon Wayans (in an excellent bit of casting), the film is about an estranged father and daughter who are both searching for something they never knew they had all along.

Coppola’s moody and, at times, atmospheric films have always left me wanting more. Despite always having a smooth pace, a confidence behind the camera and top-notch casting, I have struggled to find a voice with anything worthy to say in her films.

The obvious connection here is Coppola collaborating with Murray for the first time in feature film form since LOST IN TRANSLATION, which was 17 whole years ago. (Don’t worry we didn’t forget about the A VERY MURRAY CHRISTMAS special.)

Once again, Coppola pairs the somber and sardonic actor with a younger actress in Rashida Jones. This time instead of romance in a far-off place it’s about rekindling with family in your hometown. In this case, the homeland is New York City shot beautifully with a crisp ultra-modern look by Philippe Le Sourd (THE BEGUILED). Despite the meandering plotting involving possible marital infidelity, there are glimmers of something special between Murray and Jones’ dynamic, and Coppola is confident as always delivering a distinct film to audiences.

The fairly sophisticated world Laura (Jones) inhabits is damn-near perfect. She’s a published author, has style, agency, and is the mother of two young kids. She also has a hunky husband in Dean (Wayans), who, as of late, has been incredibly successful at work, but working late hours with a coworker named Fiona (Jessica Henwick). With not a lot to occupy her mind in a swanky apartment, her thoughts take a worse turn. She runs her fears by her aloof father, Felix (Murray), who, with all the charm of a lothario lounge singer, gives her dubious advice at best. So, of course, they run off into the night try and bust Dean for his supposed transgressions.

Not overtly funny, but Coppola’s dialogue matched with Murray’s spontaneous energy (that could burst into song or present a spread of caviar at any moment) is undoubtedly charming to watch. The chemistry between Jones and Murray slowly uncovers something deeper on long night escapades between their characters’ inner workings. Both are disaffected with their stages in life in one way or another. As they slowly start to come together, Coppola’s film starts to let loose a bit.

Part of the feeling of ON THE ROCKS is indescribable with Coppola’s typical lethargic pacing matched with two characters who are on an urgent mission while frantically searching for themselves. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that neither Laura nor Felix are trying to change their station in life. They are holding onto moments that are gone, things that can’t be changed.

Murray’s role was tailor-made for his sensibilities of an unapologetic man who is one comment away from being offensive at any moment. Yet Murray plays him with a twinge of self-awareness that effortlessly comes together by the end. And it’s great to see Jones onscreen again with a substantial role. Although, she’s not really that remarkable aside from a confrontational scene between her and Wayans.

In the end, Coppola is telling a tale of disappointment and ultimately acceptance of the fathers who have disappointed those they brought into this world, even if these men only begin to realize it in their twilight years.

ON THE ROCKS won’t make many best of the year lists or send droves of people flocking to subscribe to Apple TV+ when it hits the streaming platform on October 26. If there’s one thing it’s got, in excess, is the feeling of being in a red convertible with Bill Murray that will always lift your spirits.

Grade: B

ON THE ROCKS opens Friday in select theaters and will be available to stream on the Apple TV+ on October 26.