Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray have only worked together twice, but “On the Rocks,” in select Theatres now and on Apple TV+ on October 23, makes you wish they would become exclusive. She gets him in all his scampish glory, allowing the septuagenarian to revel in playing a smooth talking, lovable old scamp who drinks Cutty over ice and teaches his young grandkids to bluff at poker. Murray is the Michelangelo of mischief, a clown prince with heart and soul and Coppola knows how to mine it.
Set in pre-pandemic New York City, the story centers on Laura (Rashida Jones), an author and mom who discovers that she’s not as happily married as she thought. Her high tech businessman husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is aloof, never home and when she finds a strange make-up case in his luggage, he makes a lame excuse straight out of “Cheaters 101.”
Her father Felix (Bill Murray), a loquacious, jet setting art dealer knows about infidelity. He’s a scoundrel who knows, for instance, that The Plaza is the best place to have an affair because it has exits on three different streets for a fast extra-marital escape. He’s not shocked Dean might be having an affair, he’s just surprised he’s doing it at the Soho House, a building he considers déclassé.
Over a birthday dinner at the ritzy 21 Club, at the table where Bogart proposed to Bacall, Felix suggests they investigate on their own, using his knowledge if the cheating mind to catch Dean in the act. In a cherry red sports car they set out on their mission—“This is wartime,” he says.—but the relationship they expose isn’t the one they expected.
“On the Rocks” isn’t a rom com or a screwball comedy or an adventure film. It’s a Sofia Coppola film, a movie that teleports the viewer into a heightened world of privilege while still mining a deep emotional core. And it’s laugh out loud funny, for a time anyway.
It is light, plot wise, but exists to showcase the chemistry between Murray and Jones. Their relationship is the real love story in the film, as fractured and dysfunctional as it may be. They look at the world through very different eyes but are bound by blood.
During the caper portion they have an almost Nick and Nora vibe, exchanging sharp, smart and funny repartee. Later when the action turns introspective, they get real, exposing their feelings in a raw, real and regretful way.
Murray is loose, droll and deadpan. He’s a walking, talking anachronism who says things like, “Women. You can’t live with them. You can’t live without them. That doesn’t mean you have to live with them,” and yet there is a bittersweet quality to the work that adds unspoken layers. It is a very particular performance and one unique to his style.
Jones plays off Murray with a different kind of performance. She’s warm, vulnerable and naturalistic, even when they are mid-escapade. The trick here is to not let Murray steal the show, and she ably manages to share the spotlight.
“On the Rocks” also features nice supporting work from Wayans who dials down his comedy instincts to play it straight and Jenny Slate as an over-sharer Laura bumps into now and again. Both bring much to the proceedings but the main attraction here are the leads. Coppola knows that and while the ending may be a bit pat, the endearing characters are the draw, not the story.