Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) directs On the Rocks, a family drama of sorts touching on dysfunction, miscues and career worries. In the past this would be Woody Allen’s territory, but now a female illustrates both the silliness and the naivety of men. While this Coppola chapter does not have quite the punch of the aforementioned film, it has spirit and heart and boasts fine performances on all sides.
Laura (Rashida Jones) is an anxious novelist married to Dean (Marlon Wayans) an outgoing entrepreneur. The couple appears outwardly happy with kids and meetings, but when Dean starts pursuing his own company concept with savvy connections, he seems glib and overconfident. Strangely, he gets into bed one night very affectionate, only to retreat with alarm when Laura opens her eyes.
Though the build is slow, Coppola knows how to draw us in and be compelling: A pair of fingertips moving away from a lover’s hold, a sparsely attended wedding hall, a spiral staircase, a bawling toddler all depict unease and worry.
Laura’s thoughts float away then she sees the worst: a woman’s tote bag with a bottle of body oil in her husband’s luggage.
Enter Felix (Bill Murray), Laura’s art dealer dad, who projects a kind of low key Gonzo energy a la Hunter Thompson. Felix knows everyone and feels at times like a cringe-inducing ladies’ man, yet it is clear that he loves his daughter and possesses a charm. Felix can feel Laura’s discontent and proposes to stalk the smooth unfaithful Dean.
Much of the enjoyment comes from Murray himself, his childlike eyes, his sudden whimsy, his melancholy, and his unpredictability, now trademarked. We can guess that he is going to get a belching antique red sports car to chase Dean down but it is still a lot of fun to watch.
The action of this urban tale goes down easy with a chuckle here and there. I even heard a few cackles—music to my ears.
Perhaps the most intriguing person is Dean. One moment he is on autopilot, the next distracted, and in yet another Dean is dumbstruck. He is often laconic and silent, hard to read. Even at the last moments, Dean is nonchalant and casual, perhaps too quick to smile.
Murray’s character becomes zany and overbearing, but the pleasure of On the Rocks is in watching the actor’s mercurial nature. Murray is the father who intends too much, from lounge-singing to madcap schemes, but there is such joy in Bill Murray himself that in these troubled times, he seems the very spirit of the movies.
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