On the Rocks review – Bill Murray flirts with disaster in daddy-issues comedy | Film

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Bill Murray amiably shows up on autopilot for this high-concept, low-octane New York caper from writer-director Sofia Coppola – the title of course playfully combining the specifications for a classy cocktail with a warning of imminent disaster.

The film requires Murray to reprise some of his witty, man-of-the-world ennui from Coppola’s 2003 Tokyo-set smash Lost in Translation in which he struck up a friendship with a lonely, vulnerable younger woman, played by Scarlett Johansson – only now he’s a silver fox, playing opposite the estimable Rashida Jones, who is supposed to be his actual daughter. The film itself melds the daddy motif of earlier Coppola pictures (such as Somewhere from 2010) with Woody Allen’s elegiac view of classic Manhattan and the uproarious light-comedy adventures to be had without real consequence in that fabled city. Murray brings his droll, cool affect around with him everywhere he goes in this movie like an opera cloak, and it’s something that only he could bring off. But he always looks as if he could be thinking about something else, and the light sing-song intonations can betoken anything or nothing. It’s amusing in an undemanding way, but like any great comic, he still needs material.

Murray plays Felix, an art dealer who has evidently grown wealthy enough not to work terribly hard and live a whimsically irresponsible lifestyle, cruising around New York in outrageously showy sports cars, or being driven everywhere by his loyal chauffeur. He is devoted to his daughter Laura, played by Jones, despite having angered her and wrecked her childhood by cheating on her mom as part of his wayward style. Laura is now married to Dean (Marlon Wayans) whom Felix cordially mistrusts as a rival for his daughter’s affections. But when Laura suspects that Dean is cheating on her with his beautiful colleague Fiona (Jessica Henwick, from Game of Thrones), she incautiously confides her fears to Felix, who then insists on putting the supposedly caddish Dean under surveillance. Soon Laura and Felix are a father-daughter spy duo, snooping on Dean from afar outside restaurants and clubs. Poor Laura needs her dad’s insights into the male roué mind, but the reminder of his own infidelity is increasingly painful. And she is exasperated when Felix wants to goof off their spying job so he can take her to classy joints that were stylish in his day.

There are some cheerfully amusing moments, and I’m a sucker for the time-honoured routine when someone impatiently grabs the binoculars from someone else, thus dragging the straps across that person’s scowling face. But really the banter and the elegance needs some substance in the script and it really isn’t here, or not enough of it, and the serious moments seem glazed in a kind of negligent unseriousness. At one stage, Felix has to tell Laura that the younger woman for whom he left her mother has now died, and he is momentarily stunned at the realisation that he has outlived her. But that seems like nothing more than a minor, martini-soaked wobble. As for Laura, Jones isn’t required to get genuinely angry, but she is also too subdued and concerned to get into the spirit of farce.

There are some nice minor moments. Felix’s own mother, coolly played by Barbara Bain, is still alive, and in one family scene is instantly alert to the possibility that her granddaughter’s marriage is in trouble. And I liked the performance from Jenny Slate (like Jones, a veteran of the much-missed TV comedy Parks and Recreation) who is someone that Laura has to make polite conversation with at the school drop-off as she drones incessantly on about her emotional life.

On the Rocks is naturally indulgent towards Murray. No other approach could work or make sense. He is always entertaining to watch on some level and he gives a nice rendition of the song Mexicali Way. In any case, a real confrontation would mean a tragic fracturing, a tonal shift towards a different sort of film that would unbalance the whole thing. But there is no equivalent of the doomy romantic rapport that Murray achieved with Johansson in Lost in Translation. The movie isn’t on the rocks; it just timidly hugs the shore.

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Source: The Guardian
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