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Murray Back on Form – On the Rocks (Film Review)

3 min read

It appears as if this awards season is going to be dominated by streaming services thanks to a little global pandemic, as such each streaming service is trying to position its films as the frontrunners. While Netflix appears to be throwing everything they have out there, Apple TV has a small comedy-drama that might just be the sort of thing that the Academy love.

On the Rocks is the latest film written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it concerns Rashida Jones’ Laura who along with her freewheeling father Felix (Bill Murray) begins to investigate her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) who they suspect is having an affair.

From the off, it’s clear that this is a frothier confection from Coppola than her other stuff, even the more throwaway work like The Bling Ring or Somewhere has something to say about relationships and current obsessions with fame. Instead, what On the Rocks opts for is a kind of caper with reductive attitudes towards gender.

It’s probably not much of a surprise to say that this is the best Murray has been in years, when not cameoing, or appearing in public doing weird Bill Murray things, he is an impressive actor, though of late staying within the safe confines of Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, and Coppola. As Felix he is as Murray as you can get, he dresses well but with a flair for the quirky, he speaks in strange verbose exchanges, spouts random wisdom, and appears to be making things up as he goes along. This is his most full performance since Lost in Translation earned him that nomination for Best Actor some twenty years ago.

Perhaps the success of his performance is his growing love story of sorts with a younger woman also doesn’t help matters in comparison to the former film. This time his relationship with his daughter Rashida Jones is the focus. Jones hasn’t really been given a chance to shine, and while this might have been her chance the role of Laura feels flat and lacking in the charm of Murray’s showier role. She lacks the fragility that made Scarlett Johansson so endearing when she shared scenes with Murray, and as such just appears to be setting up Murray for the next weird character beat.

The film itself is oddly pointless too, even in her lesser works there felt like there was something beneath the surface. Her previous film 2017’s The Beguiled felt like a radical tale of feminist violence and was much more imposing than this. Here we have a story about a woman chasing a man around the place, and even worse the ongoing discussion that men are inexplicably drawn to affairs. Even the end, which should be a bittersweet reconciliation is mired by this hackneyed idea that a woman is the property of her father until she is property of her husband, the exchange of watches as a sign of ownership seems to be the message of the day.

With that said, Coppola knows how to frame Murray so that his tired, fed up look gets the best lighting, and a low energy car chase is actually quite enjoyable, and while some reveals and twists are quite fun – and Marlon Wayans is the best he’s been since Requiem for a Dream the film still feels like it’s only there to remind people that when he wants Murray is untouchable as an affable douchebag. But there are plenty of other (better) films that could remind you of that, so for Apple TV to be pushing this as an awards contender it looks like the only thing not on the rocks is Murray’s chance at some awards. Watered down with seltzer water, On the Rocks doesn’t satisfy the way a good caper or a good drama should, and instead just leaves a burn in the mouth.

Dir: Sofia Coppola

Scr: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans, Jenny Slate, Jessica Henwick

Prd: Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley

DOP: Phillippe Le Sourd

Music: Phoenix

Country: USA

Year: 2020

Runtime: 96 minutes

On the Rocks is streaming on Apple TV+ from 23rd Oct

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