There is one reason to see ON THE ROCKS, and that’s Bill Murray’s flamboyant, slyly funny, and altogether charming performance. Writer/director Sofia Coppola has once again teamed Murray with a young actress to chart an adventurous emotional course. In 2003’s “Lost In Translation” Murray played a lonely movie star adrift in Tokyo who meets Scarlett Johansson as a newlywed equally adrift in a troubled marriage. The atmosphere around them felt hermetically sealed, dreamlike, and it clung to them as they wandered from the timeless environs of a towering luxury hotel, out into the night in an unexpected, mysteriously lovely trance. This time Murray’s role conjures up nostalgia for an era and its mores about to be on the rocks.
Murray plays a wealthy art dealer and bon vivant named Felix who cocktails his way through upper crust Manhattan with his adult daughter Laura, a writer and mother of two, played by Rashida Jones. She suspects her husband (Marlon Wayans) of cheating. Wayans’s character is a mere prop in the Oedipal drama between father and daughter, the daughter observing her playboy dad in action wafting through old New York as we get a whiff of the romance and vintage air he breathes. Coppola once again aims to cast a sweet, funny spell, but is missing that magical chemistry between her two leads. Jones’s character is too resolutely hangdog and lacks some of the lightness her eventual wisdom would have allowed for. Jenny Slate is an hilarious side note as a self-absorbed yacker whom Laura is always trying to dodge at school drop off.
Trudging through her day in striped shirt, baggy pants, and soft shoes, Laura reminded me of the sad-eyed, bedraggled Giulietta Masina in “La Strada” tagging along in the circus that is her old man’s life. Here, the old man knows all the doormen and cops in Manhattan, sips martinis in the hallowed denizens of The Carlyle and mingles amongst the overstuffed parlors and inhabitants of high society art collectors. When Felix puts his lips together and blows, it’s the haunting strains from “Laura” a 1944 film noir he’s whistling. He tools around the avenues in his vintage red convertible playing detective while eating caviar. Felix is determined to catch his daughter’s cheating husband in the act and assert his primacy in her life– until he’s stopped short by his own betrayals.
His daughter goes along for the ride, until she doesn’t, and the father who’s growing increasingly deaf to women’s voices suddenly hears that daughter roar. We see all this coming which flattens the drama –and the old man, but not entirely. The ending softens the blow, their shared pain tempered by the passing of time, and compassion born of her liberation. Murray remains irresistible throughout; I’d follow him anywhere.
ON THE ROCKS, an Apple Original Films and A24 Release, is now playing at Landmark’s Kendall Square Cinema and will be available on Apple TV+ starting Friday, October 23.