“On the Rocks” – I got your nose. I got your nose.
How many fathers have played that free-and-easy, five-second game with their kids? My dad certainly did, but as I grew older, his teasing evolved into more functional spaces. For instance, he would insist on possessing the television’s remote control when he entered the family room.
“Jeff. Controller. Hand it over, Son, because you don’t know how to use it,” he would often say. This exchange occurred daily for years, and sometimes I would hand over the remote with a chuckle. On other occasions, I would roll my eyes with minor disdain because our TV habits differed by at least one standard deviation.
Don Mitchell got a kick out of his ritual and always smiled approvingly if I laughed along or shook my head in disbelief.
In writer/director Sofia Coppola’s rascally, joyous New York City comedy “On the Rocks”, Laura (Rashida Jones) is feeling similarly towards her dad Felix (Bill Murray). The big headline here is Coppola and Murray are reunited after 17 years (“Lost in Translation” (2003)), and although “On the Rocks” isn’t a sequel, it owns a few parallels. Felix and Bob (“Lost in Translation”) are wealthy, educated gentlemen who both loiter with a younger woman in a big city. Still, this is a different film, a stand-alone delight wrapped in a tight construction.
For Laura, her life is well-defined. She’s a loving stay-at-home mom and adores her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and their two kids, however, her life isn’t entirely ideal. Laura enjoyed a pre-kid career, and hey, she just landed a book deal, but writer’s block is stifling her work, as she regularly stares at a blank PC screen or out their loft’s large bay windows.
Unfortunately, another force occupies her thoughts: suspicion. She suspects that Dean is cheating on her, and while she’s shuttling Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and Theo (Alexandra Mary Reimer) to school, reading bedtime stories, and running errands, he’s traveling, entertaining clients, and nurturing his new business.
Coppola and Dean raise our suspicions too. He seems a little too protective of his phone and greets and says goodbye to his wife with a forehead kiss or plutonic fist bump. She’s feeling vulnerable and rightfully so, especially since Felix has a philandering history. Sure, Felix isn’t a flawless parent, but he loves his little girl. He’s also a good listener and then decides – for the two of them – that they’ll embark on a cloak and dagger mission to determine Dean’s fidelity.
Throughout the 96-minute runtime, Murray is at his playful best. For instance, he asks his granddaughters if his feet smell as they watch “Breaking Bad” together. Felix is a caveman of sorts, but an affluent, seasoned one. We deduce that he’s a retired salesman, one with a random London concierge on speed dial. He’s also on a first-name basis with all the essential maître d’s in Manhattan (and probably the other four boroughs), and he can rattle off endless facts, like the mating rituals of prehistoric man.
Felix is a man of the world, but right now, his universe is Laura’s happiness and care. Along the way, he figures that they will enjoy a daddy-daughter adventure, and her mood volleys between mild frustration and gratified ease.
Now, Coppola doesn’t show off The Big Apple as a third character, like Tokyo in “Lost in Translation” or the Chateau Marmont in “Somewhere” (2010). We, however, do recognize this iconic metropolis, as our director captures posh restaurants, busy streets, and one shot of One World Trade Center glistening in the distance.
Although I’ve missed a couple of films from Coppola’s impressive resume, “On the Rocks” is her most lighthearted and breezy (that I’ve seen). Murray undoubtedly drives the story, but we don’t desperately miss him when he’s not on camera. Jones’ relatable alone-moments, doubts, and nearly-silent frustration do resonate, as we hope that nothing disrupts her family’s harmony.
Thankfully, Felix’s mischief offers her a distraction, but not an altogether productive one. Well, this daughter and father love each other, even though Laura’s patience is touch and go…like so many other kids.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
(“On the Rocks” is available in theatres on Oct. 2 and will stream on AppleTV+ on Oct. 23)
Image credits: A24, AppleTV+; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers