Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On the Rocks Is a Low-Key Charming Affair

I feel like On the Rocks was badly served by opening in the same Fall. It debuted on the Autumn festival circuit alongside a barrage of dramas with heavier themes on their mind. On the Rocks, meanwhile, is the kind of breezy movie for grown-ups that gets released in the summertime like The Big Sick or Little Miss Sunshine. With the pandemic screwing up the entire release calendar, On the Rock just couldn't get an ideal release date launchpad. Oh well, movie release dates end up being immaterial in the long run. What's important is a movie's quality and On the Rocks proves an enjoyable watch.

From the outside, Laura (Rashida Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) would appear to have a great married life. Dean's doing well in the entrepreneur business, Laura's a novelist and they have two wonderful kids. However, Laura isn't doing so hot right now. She's got a case of writer's block and, worse, she's convinced her husband is cheating on her with his assistant Fiona (Jessica Henwick). Laura turns to her dad, Felix Keane (Bill Murray), in these troubled times and that turns out to be a bad idea. Felix only fuels her suspicions and the two begin to follow Dean around in hopes of figuring out if he's cheating on Laura or not.

One of the very best traits of writer/director Sofia Coppola's script for On the Rocks is the relationship between Laura and Felix. It's a fractured father/daughter dynamic I haven't quite seen in a movie before. Felix was a father who left a negative impression on Laura's life with him cheating on her mom and all. However, that was decades ago. When On the Rocks begins, Laura and Felix are standing in the crater of Felix's actions. They've resigned themselves to the fact that their relationship will never be perfect, that a dark cloud representing the past will always linger over their interactions. But maybe they can still have some fun?

It's a complex approach to a troubled father/daughter rapport that proves quietly fascinating. Laura and Felix always feel like they're constantly switching between being enemies or time-tested allies. It's a messy relationship that feels evocative of reality and keeps your glued to the screen. Plus, such an intricate dynamic proves to be great material for the two leads of On the Rocks. Jones, for her part, is especially adept at conveying Laura as someone always wrestling with how she feels about her father. Everything about her life is in flux and her connection to Felix is no exception. Jones renders that lack of certainty with such intriguing conviction.

For his part, Bill Murray works quite well at playing a charming slimeball that somehow keeps getting you to smile wryly at his antics. It's the sort of scheming ladies man Murray's been playing for well over four decades now, though now it's coated in an extra-layer of elderly experience. Oh, and now Murray can play the role of a super cool granddad in a manner that proves surprisingly charming. Murray and Jones have good chemistry together and Coppola's script makes the good sense to keep things intimate in their excursions even when they take a detour into Mexico in the third-act. Jones and Murray are good enough that you don't need much more than them to make things engaging.

On the Rocks isn't the most substantive of Sofia Coppola's works, even among those that star Bill Murray but it doesn't really need to be. It's a low-key affair whose charms prove as satisfying as a well-stirred beverage. What a shame this movie is being released onto Apple TV+ where it will be lost behind a paywall forever, never to be seen by audiences. It's like putting together a nice painting and then hiding it away in a shed. Between its release date and Apple TV+ debut, On the Rocks really is getting a bum rap in terms of its release. Rest assured, though, the movie itself is far more enjoyable than its bungled release.

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