On the Rocks

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in a cab


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.




© Steve Morrissey 2020





Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette



It’s tempting to look at writer/director Sofia Coppola’s biopic about Marie Antoinette as a coded self-portrait – young woman born into immense privilege, continuing in the family business, expected to have an understanding of the hoi polloi though with no experience thereof, allowed to indulge her whims, and so on.


Perhaps it’s a better film seen that way, because as a straightforward biopic it’s full of problems, chief of those being the inertia at the centre, where Kirsten Dunst’s Marie – the Austrian princess bought in by the French to produce an heir – and her spouse the Dauphin (Jason Schwartzman) sit like a pair of bland puddings while around them wheel a menagerie of exotic creatures. Rip Torn’s baritone adds fruitcake richness to his portrayal of King Louis XV, old but still full of priapic desire for his mistress, Mme Du Barry, played by Asia Argento with a look on her face like she’s got a boiler-room of naughtiness going on between her legs. There’s also Danny Huston, as Marie’s worldly wily older brother, drafted in to help the Dauphin work out what to do in the bedroom – the Dauphin might be gay, terminally inbred or just bored, who knows? And around them a court of looks and whispers. These exotics and intriguers apart, it’s a languid portrait of inert, disconnected people that at every turn threatens to become inert and disconnected itself. Coppola knows this, hence the ripeness of the supporting characters, hence the use of modern pop music (Aphex Twin, New Order, The Cure) on the soundtrack, the largely 1980s choices being another hint that this is really more about Ms C, who became a teenager in the middle of that decade.


It drifts along, the Dauphin doing a bit of hunting, Marie getting back to nature in the model farm she set up at the Trianon palace – where she indulges in the sort of mock bucolic playing about with cows and sheep that well-to-do young women now ape with their organic foods and working holidays on farms. And then, waking up as if from a “what the hell was I doing?” reverie, Coppola gets a spurt on with a finale that packs in the “the peasants are revolting”, “let them eat cake”, “off with their heads” headlines in one urgent rush.


Coppola isn’t delivering a history lesson. And the way that she covers the well known events, merely acknowledging their existence, makes that abundantly clear. The clothes are splendid, the locations genuine (some of it was even shot at Versailles), the acting superb, and it’s a fabulously rich summoning of an atmosphere of suffocating protocol. Dramatic, though? Hardly.




Marie Antoinette – Watch it/buy it at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2006