It doesn’t always require an intricately woven plot in order for a movie to be enjoyable. Sometimes all a film needs is a pair of endlessly charismatic leads who audiences simply want to spend time hanging out with.
Recently, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s duo from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” come to mind. Sure, things happen, but the most enjoyment comes from just riding around with these characters, hearing them chat and spending time in their world.
Sofia Coppola’s “On The Rocks” introduces another pair of characters who fit that bill, as Rashida Jones and Bill Murray charm their way through a light, warm father-daughter caper that delivers big laughs and a moving, emotional message.
Laura (Jones) is a burnt out writer and mother of two young girls. Her days are spent juggling the kids and their activities, playing chauffeur, and staring at a blank computer screen hoping inspiration will strike. Meanwhile, her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is busy in his own ways, launching and brand new company and growing it from the ground up. Between business trips and carpool duty, the couple barely have any time for each other which leaves Laura feeling like she’s not enough.
Those feelings – combined with Dean’s late nights at the office and a mysterious toiletry bag in his suitcase – lead Laura’s mind wandering as she begins to wonder if her husband could be having an affair behind her back. Every time she begins to worry, though, common sense kicks in and she realizes it’s just her thoughts getting carried away. That is, until her father arrives to add fuel to every sneaking suspicion.
Felix (Murray) is a retired high-profile art dealer living lavishly on the cash stored away from years of scoring big. Now he travels the world with a private driver, staying in the nicest hotels and eating at the best restaurants, all while unabashedly schmoozing on any woman he can find. When this carefree, fantasy lifestyle crosses paths with his daughter’s as in the face of a potentially life-altering revelation, Felix sees it as an opportunity to rope Laura into one of his signature adventures. What ensues is a hysterical caper that’s part dramedy and part spy flick, as the father-daughter duo tail Dean throughout New York City and more in search of evidence of his infidelity.
“On The Rocks” starts off slow, as Coppola methodically introduces the world of Laura and Dean, the business of their schedule and the status of their relationship. It’s all necessary exposition, but nothing about the first 20 minutes or so is necessarily captivating. Instead, it feels like a waiting game knowing that at some point in the near future, Bill Murray will arrive.
When he does, it’s for a father-daughter lunch between Felix and Laura, and after coming on incredibly strong with a musical number and a bit of mansplaining, things really take off. As Murray settles in, he and Jones quickly prove why they were chosen to anchor Coppola’s film. The banter between the two is next level, as they trade witty barbs and zingers nonstop. While Jones’s status as a comedian may not be quite as legendary as Murray’s, she more than holds her own playing opposite him.
As a result, the pair’s sheer likability is what makes this movie so enjoyable. The mock investigation is fun and adds to the humor, but it wouldn’t matter what Jones and Murray are doing – put those two together and let them ride around all day long and it’s a guaranteed hit.
It’s a testament to Murray’s undying charm that even his aging womanizer Felix is so damn lovable. Everyone knows they shouldn’t – he leads Laura on a wild goose chase minimizing her troubles so he can have a bit of fun, all while hitting on every breathing woman in his path. However, he does it all in a way that feels sincere instead of reckless and allows the entertainment factor to overshadow his many flaws.
For a film exploring infidelity and the potential collapse of a marriage, “On The Rocks” is surprisingly lighthearted. The adventure between Laura and Felix certainly plays a part in this, but underneath the duo’s escapades the film still maintains a solid emotional core. Whether it’s Laura’s feelings of inadequacy, Felix’s relentless need to be loved, or the story of distrust between Laura and Dean, the film tackles extremely heavy and real issues, but in a way that never feels too dark or depressing.
As impressive as Jones is trading one liners with Murray, she’s even better when Coppola allows her to embrace the film’s dramatic side. The weight of Laura’s uncertainty and fear is evident through Jones’s expressions and emotions, even though she may be reveling in a joyride through the city on the surface. When things come to a climax between Laura and her father, Jones doesn’t hold back as she rips into Murray and lets the raw emotion show through at last.
Without spoiling the findings of Laura and Felix’s investigating, the result may feel a bit like an anticlimax after an hour and a half, but that’s just another element demonstrating the authenticity of the film. In the real world, not everything has an explosive ending with shocking monologues and revelations.
Sometimes simplicity works, and “On The Rocks” is a great reminder of that – especially when a pair like Jones and Murray are able to carry the film all on their own.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.