The first time Bill Murray and director Sofia Coppola teamed up, we got the brilliant Lost in Translation. Their second joint effort, On the Rocks, isn't quite in the same league, although it's nevertheless a warm, funny, beautifully-observed human story. You wouldn't think the wisecracking veteran comedian and the soft-spoken younger filmmaker would make such an effective combo. Call it the X-Factor; they get each other at some fundamental level that we – and maybe even they – might never understand. All we know is that it produces cinematic magic.
Rashida Jones plays Laura, a young mother who believes her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) might be having an affair with a coworker. He's working late nights, is shady with his cell phone, and constantly jets off to different places with the woman in tow. For guidance, Laura turns to her dad Felix (Murray), a playboy type who knows a thing or six about sneaking around. Felix insists they launch a full-fledged mission to find out the truth, following Dean across town and scheming to gain access to his texts. In the process, father and daughter confront a long-standing issue between them and learn to redefine their relationship in an important manner.
On the Rocks gets its title from Laura's perceived status of her marriage, but also from the alcoholic drinks Felix is continually ordering. A compelling dynamic exists between these two characters. Felix has been kind of a lout over the years, for which Laura has held a touch of resentment. At the same time, he's the exact right person to seek guidance from because, if his daughter's hunches are correct, he's been Dean at points in his life. So while she's relying on his unusual expertise, Laura also has to face the impact Felix's behavior has had on her.
Coppola specializes in that sort of subtle interpersonal vibe. Her screenplay is wise without ever sacrificing the comedy. Murray is a perfect choice to play the paternal end of this equation. Both have a particular, unique vision of the world. Both have been through a lot of wild experiences. And both possess a level of melancholy that sometimes seeps out from the cracks of their spirited personalities. Through Murray's efforts, we sense that Felix sees the mission as an opportunity to atone for his mistakes with Laura. He can use his own caddish lifestyle to help her over an emotional hurdle.
Murray and Jones have excellent chemistry together. We can feel Laura's love for her father, but also the discomfort she feels relying on him in this manner. Jones makes the character's desperation relatable. She and her co-star spend much of On the Rocks talking. There's a spark in how they bounce off each other. Laura fears the worst and hopes for the best; Felix just presumes the worst. Their debates are lively and often funny. The movie doesn't have a ton of plot. Then again, it doesn't need to with two good actors delivering such sharp dialogue.
The resolution of On the Rocks is perhaps a bit too convenient, and Dean could have been a more fully-developed character, rather than a device to keep the story in motion. What Jones and Murray do is more than enough to hold the picture together, though. They create a believable father/daughter bond that is touching to watch. Sofia Coppola continues her unbroken streak of winners with this look at martial insecurity and the emotional toll it takes.
out of four
On the Rocks is rated R for some language/sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.