On the Rocks

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A Sofia Coppola movie with Bill Murray as an agent of misrule? Lost in Translation II is the guiding principle of On the Rocks, though “stars” Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans might disagree.

First up, we’re served Jones and Wayans hot and then cold – an opening scene shows Laura (Jones) and Dean (Wayans) in love and hot for each other sneaking away from their own wedding party to take a swim in the pool in the hotel basement. Cut to some years later and Dean arrives home late from a work thing, kisses Laura sleepily and then reacts with surprise when she says something. Was he expecting someone else?

She was in bed watching Chris Rock on TV riffing about the difference between “fucking” and “intercourse” – “fucking” is what you do before you’re married, opines Rock – so was in the right frame of mind to entertain doubts about her marriage.

Suspicious, she turns to her father Felix (Murray) for guidance. Felix is a man firmly in the “fucking” camp and has spent his life bouncing from one bed to another. Even now in his anecdotage he’s hitting on every woman he encounters, using charm to get the deflector shields down. Dad reckons that of course Dean is playing away, because that’s what he’d do. Having convinced her to at least consider the idea, the rest of the movie consists of Felix co-opting the reluctant Laura into his increasingly invasive investigation – private detectives, photos, a car chase and ultimately a trip to Mexico to finally nail the bastard while he’s nailing one of his co-workers.

Rashisa Jones and Marlon Wayans in a restaurant
Cosy? Not for long

Meanwhile, in what seems like an omen, everywhere Laura goes, everyone she talks to, is discussing relationships one way or another – sex, fidelity, new relationships getting going, old ones falling apart.

Farce with a French flavour seems to be Coppola’s intention, though I suspect a French film would have fleshed out the characters of Laura and Dean a bit beyond juggling mother and good-guy dad.

The Laura/Dean story is a MacGuffin. They’re the necessary connective tissue allowing Bill Murray to twinkle away in episodes that would  otherwise be free floating. Two standouts – Felix is pulled over by the cops and, in a bit of “well I never” hat-tipping to 1930s screwball comedies, manages to emerge smelling of roses. In another, Laura enters a beachside restaurant only to find that her father is there already, on first names terms with everyone in the room (all women) and in the middle of singing a showstopping song.

To stop it looking entirely like a Bill Murray film, Coppola writes a few hand-wringing speeches for Jones, mostly of her interrogating her dad about men’s seeming lack of capacity for keeping their dick in their pants, which he responds to with the sort of “it’s hardwired” shrug that’s exactly what you’d expect from an ageing lothario. Harry and Sally stuff.

Felix, by the way, is impossibly wealthy, a semi-retired art dealer; she is a writer struggling with a blank page. I’m not sure if that makes any difference but does at least help locate us more firmly in New York, or Movie New York at least.

Coppola is no Nora Ephron or Woody Allen but she does have insight and good jokes. And Bill Murray – here on killer form.

On the Rocks – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

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