A Sofia Coppola/Bill Murray collaboration basically sells itself to many movie-lovers, who'll be reaching for the remote to turn on Apple TV+ at just the sight of those names on the poster. And though their work here certainly won't disappoint, it doesn't quite measure up to what the duo achieved in Lost In Translation either. But that's an extremely tall order to begin with, so while On The Rocks may not land Coppola another Oscar for best original screenplay, the light and sweet dramedy still sufficiently delivers in a fun, finely acted father-daughter story, pleasantly shot against an atmospheric New York backdrop.
Rashida Jones plays Laura, an author and young mother of two who feels stuck, both professionally and personally. Her energy's constantly being drained by the responsibilities of parenthood, which fall mostly on her shoulders due to the frequent travel and late night obligations of her career-driven husband Dean (Marlon Wayans). Already concerned that her marriage's flame is fading, Laura starts to see clues that could mean Dean's having an affair with a co-worker, and so she reluctantly turns to the man who just might know a thing or two about extra-marital activities: her father Felix (Bill Murray).
It's conceptually simple and straightforward, relying on a few clichés to set up the stakes of the story, but once Felix and his womanizing wisdom enter the equation, we're launched into a strong second act that plays perfectly to Murray's film-carrying charisma. Steadfast in his belief of an insatiable hard-wiring of all men, and always up for the thrill of an adventure, Laura's father amplifies her worst suspicions and claims the only way to confirm them for sure is by tailing her husband around not only New York, but wherever the trail leads them. Laura finds a few extra puzzle pieces hinting at potential infidelity on the journey, but also learns a bit more than any woman needs to hear about the ways her playboy father sees the world, and can't help but think about the heartbreak that his behavior's caused in her own life.
Far from just a straight sleaze-ball, Felix is a complex, multidimensional character and the clear highlight of Coppola's script. She provides a sharp and insightful contrast between his interactions with the women he merely finds attractive, and the ones that he truly loves. He's painted as a caring and compassionate protector of his daughter and granddaughters, who just happens to believe in an inherent male nature that often gets in the way of that love. In light of what it would mean, Felix is perhaps a bit too giddy for the opportunity to prove his cynical worldview, but he's even more delighted just to spend time re-connecting with Laura.
And while the writing is crucial for a character like this one, it takes a true star to bring every facet of the role to life and stick the landing on screen, which is why it feels like the part was tailored to, or maybe even specifically written for, the beloved Bill Murray. He's simply a joy to watch, and this performance proves that he might be somehow getting even better with age. His effortless charm and natural screen presence command every scene, and as a viewer, you quickly realize you'd be perfectly content to just kick back and enjoy Felix's antics for hours, driving his daughter around the city, and sweet-talking his way through fun moments along the ride. But of course, the film can't revel in the pure satisfaction of the second act forever, as it has to answer its own questions eventually, and ultimately make its point. Certain things bubble up to the surface that the audience will no doubt want to see the characters grapple with, but the manner in which they do is not quite effective enough to fuel a third act that lives up to what came before.
The answers offered in the end do feel like the right ones to bring the film to interesting conclusions, and they work towards a worthwhile thematic statement, but it's all just a bit too quick and tidy. The movie rushes to tie the story up in a neat and clean bow with a few scenes that feel a little too easy given the circumstances. Perhaps in the interest of keeping things light, Coppola shies away from truly wrestling with the implications of the messiness that's been unravelled, and as a result, the mixture that was so strong until that point goes a little flat.
The film isn't without its flaws, but there's more than enough here to warrant a stream: unsurprisingly assured direction, capable acting from Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, a few good laughs, and something valuable to say. Yet even if it had none of those things at all, the movie would still be worth watching, simply for Bill Murray alone. So be sure to see this one before the year's end, because you don't want to miss the performance that just might land the legend his first Academy Award.
On The Rocks is streaming now on Apple TV+.
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