Movie review: On the Rocks

(image courtesy IMP awards)

Ah, the bright and fizzy effervescence of new love!

When Cupid’s arrow does its much-romanced about thing, and we are swept up into the gushing thrills of getting to know that special someone, it’s almost impossible to believe that there will be any dimming of the ardour and the passion.

But before you know it, you’ve been together for years and years, the giggling impulses of sex in strange places and stolen magic moments long behind you, and you have to find a way to keep the vitality of love alive in amongst a haze of deadlines, kids’ activities and school drop-offs.

On the Rocks, the latest film by Sofia Coppola that reunites the filmmaker with her Lost in Translation star, Bill Murray, understands all too well how this drift to banality can occur and as it opens we find Laura (Rashida Jones) trying to keep the spark of romance alive with busy start-up entrepreneur husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) while balancing a freelance writing career and book deadline with entertaining and looking after two daughters, often alone thanks to Dean’s many business trips.

In that kind of frenetically domestic situation, where there’s barely time to draw breath, let alone ponder the state of your relationship, Laura is only dimly aware of satisfaction and a sense that once was vibrant and strong is now a white shade of romantic pale.

That shadowy sense of dissatisfaction is brought into sharp relief when a series of discoveries, some actual, some assumed, lead to wonder if her husband is having an affair with co-worker and frequent business trip partner, Fiona (Jessica Henwick).

(image via YouTube (c) A24)

Her initial inclination is not to trust her instincts since Felix has always given the impression of being the kind of guy who’s so into her and their kids that betraying them isn’t something he’d even contemplate.

But when you barely have time to string a sentence together, and your only moments of peace, such as waiting to drop her daughter off at school in what looks like a gorgeous New York neighbourhood, are taken up by self-absorbed friends like Vanessa (Jenny Slate), it’s hard to do much more than react instinctively.

It’s exactly that kind of instinctual response that leads Laura to contact her rich playboy father Felix (Bill Murray), an hilariously garrulous man whose charm and charisma is so potent that he is able to get his way with Teflon-ease through just about every scenario life throws at him (including in one joyously uplifting scene, getting out of a speeding ticket).

Felix is the go-to man for matters of the illicit heart because starting with Laura’s sweetly supportive mother, he has shown an ability to cheat with impunity and if ever there was someone who could clue Laura into Dean’s possible infidelity it’s her father.

Thus is set in motion a delightfully fun though emotionally and dramatically light sequence of events in which Laura wonders time and again if she was wise to see advice from her father who treats uncovering Dean’s likely adultery (Felix says it’s a given) like some sort of high stakes sleuthing game.

On the Rocks is a delightfully lo-fi piece of gently amusing storytelling that will hold your interest quite nicely for its 96-minute running time but don’t expect much more from it than that.

It doesn’t really go anywhere too groundbreaking, and while it is ineffably charming, it is also as slight as a movie can be, gliding by on the vivacious persona of New York City and on fine performances by Jones and Murray who excel as a father and daughter who want to be close but don’t exactly see eye to eye on everything.

(image via YouTube (c) A24)

And what a cinematic partnership these two fine actors give us.

Murray delivers quite possibly one of the finest performances of his career, all extrovert charisma and likable patter, a man possessed of so much wit and vitality of purpose and life that it’s well nigh impossible to dislike him.

Certainly, if your connection to him is of the acquaintance variety or the functional one, you will find him flawlessly delightful to know, a man who knows your parents or goes to your favourite deli or understands exactly what your going through.

If you’re his daughter however, you may not be quite so forgiving.

That’s not say Laura and Felix are generally at loggerheads; for the most part, theirs is a heartwarmingly grounded relationship, one anchored by Felix’s abiding desire to be close to his daughter and his granddaughters and being damn good at executing on his intent, and by Laura’s desire to stick close to a man who caused her pain when she was a kid but who is in many ways a loving, caring dad who, for instance, insists she get a sitter when her husband is way and come out with him to celebrate her birthday.

For all selfishness when it comes to matters of the heart, Felix is a damn good dad, although his stirring of the pot when it comes to Dean’s possible adulterous sins turns out to be not what Laura needs in the longrun.

It’s the warmth of relationship between father and daughter, and Murray’s transcendentally boisterous though measured delivery, that carry On the Rocks across the line.

In the hands of any other actors, and particularly someone else in the role of Felix, On the Rocks might have been so sweetly slight that it disappeared altogether but Murray hilariously and charmingly dominating every scene, and Laura play the role of straight woman daughter to her effervescent dad, the film is a delight, and while not being among Coppola’s best work, is a fine way to escape the cold, cruel rigours of 2020 and to find out whether that love that once burned so brightly can find its way back to vibrancy once more.

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