Murray, Jones perfect pair for endearing film
On the Rocks
October 21, 2020
For one reason or another, Sofia Coppola just seems to get Bill Murray. In her previous directorial efforts Lost in Translation and A Very Murray Christmas, Coppola tapped into both the world-weary wisdom and lounge lizard haminess that represent two distinct sides of the veteran comedian’s larger-than-life persona.
Now the writer-director and her comic collaborator team up again for On the Rocks, an abundantly charming and breezy screwball dramedy about the potential pitfalls of marriage and the lengths that spouses will go through to get back on track.
The marriage in question isn’t that of Murray’s character Felix and his wife but instead of his daughter Laura, played by Rashida Jones.
Along with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), Laura raises two little girls in the heart of New York City. Quickly approaching 40, she doesn’t have a career as a writer as much as she has a career in blankly staring at her MacBook Pro with research papers strewn across her desk.
Conversely, Dean’s tech-based career is going much better, so much so that he’s been traveling more frequently and surrounding himself with attractive colleagues like his assistant Fiona (Jessica Henwick).
Having fleeting doubts about Dean’s fidelity, Laura calls her gregarious father Felix for reassurance, but instead gets further confirmation from him that Dean’s actions are suspicious. Together, Laura and Felix go to extreme lengths to confirm Dean’s loyalty and potentially save the marriage from going cold.
It’s a straightforward comedic premise that could aim for sitcom-level yucks in the wrong hands. Thankfully, the chemistry between Jones and Murray more than makes up for the somewhat flimsy story.
This is a terrific starring role for Jones, who is best known for her role on NBC’s Parks and Recreation but deserves loads of lead film roles in the future. She’s a completely winning screen presence, imbuing Laura with such grace and passion that it’s almost impossible not to root for her.
Whether or not Dean is having some kind of affair, we can empathize with Laura’s concerns and insecurities not only because of his questionable behavior but because of how she has subconsciously expected men to act based on the model of her duplicitous father.
In what may be his most fully-realized role since Lost in Translation, Murray turns in an outstanding performance that plays perfectly to both his comedic and dramatic strengths.
We first meet the well-off Felix as his chauffeur pulls up to the curb and a roll-down of the car’s rear window reveals Murray’s droll face, with a perfectly deadpan “Get in” to punctuate the moment. Within the first minute of their car ride, Felix blithely whistles a tune and encourages Laura to do the same.
Murray renders Felix’s childish and even chauvinistic antics, like his non-stop flirtations with women half (or even a third) his age, with wickedly winsome confidence. When Laura observes Felix get out of yet another jam, she dryly remarks, “It must be very nice to be you,” to which he wittily chirps, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While this is mainly a two-hander between Jones and Murray, Jenny Slate steals a few scenes as a single woman who blathers on so much about her dating issues that Laura eventually doesn’t even bother feigning interest.
Wayans is typically known for his work in poorly received spoofs like A Haunted House and Fifty Shades of Black, but he’s a nice fit here, riding the line between preoccupied go-getter and potential scoundrel.
Ultimately, Jones and Murray are the reason to see this movie and Coppola’s thoughtful and warm writing allows the two performers to get the most out of their endearing characters.
Though it doesn’t reach the depths of Coppola’s strongest work, On the Rocks is a good-natured and welcome diversion when we could all use it the most.
Also new to streaming this weekend
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to his smash 2006 mockumentary Borat about a hapless Kazakhstani reporter who travels America to learn about its culture.
Streaming on HBO Max is The Witches, a remake of the 1990 fantasy comedy, this time starring Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, about an orphaned young boy who stumbles across a conference of witches while staying with his grandmother at a hotel.
Streaming on Netflix is Rebecca, an adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel starring Armie Hammer and Lily James about a newly married young woman who finds herself battling the shadow of her husband’s dead first wife.