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On the Rocks Gets by on Charm

Image courtesy of A24

There are certain notable people who have created an aura where they can get by on charm alone. Their mere presence elevates and enlivens any occasion. The doyen of deadpan Bill Murray is one of those treasures. His ageless appeal can forgive a few bad traits or flaws. The movies Murray occupies can also often get by on charm. On the Rocks is most certainly one of them. It is playing on a limited theatrical release before debuting on Apple TV+ on October 23rd.

The brightest moment of the actor’s megawatt appeal in Sofia Coppola’s comedy comes in a scene about halfway through the movie. Murray plays Felix, the debonair father to his affluent daughter Laura played by Rashida Jones. They are on a mobile stakeout snooping on Laura’s husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) because they suspect he’s having an extramarital affair. Felix is enjoying wine and caviar bolting through Manhattan traffic in a tottering but slick vintage red Alfa Romeo convertible when he’s pulled over by a pair of New York’s Finest. The talker-of-talkers takes over with a beguilement for the ages. This is one amusing entanglement of many that wrap up this father-daughter duo.

Laura and Felix practice whistling in the back seat of a car.
Image courtesy of A24

Stressed individuals are not themselves. “Mommy brain” is a real thing. Just ask The New York Times. When Laura says she is not herself, she’s not kidding. With every grimace of decaying contentment, Jones deftly plays a swamped housewife, mother of two, and a successful author experiencing a creative and personal rut approaching her birthday, one of the few left before hitting the big 4-O. Constantly overscheduled with the solo domestic duties, the ad nauseam small talk of her friends, like Jenny Slate’s fellow school mom, is no oasis. Troubling clues, tears in martinis, and little flickers of doubt from the lengthy and swanky business trips taken by her successful husband upset the dutiful Laura.

Felix is a posh socialite who hasn’t met a woman, young or old, that he couldn’t dazzle. Full of trivia, theories, and rich conversational yarns, the man is always on and always has a line. He’s the kind of guy who knows every server, manager, or concierge’s name at all the best places for self-serving opportunity. Jet-set on his ventures and conquests, he wasn’t always around and home for Laura when she was younger, but his doting wisdom and attention arriving in town is a welcome lift for her. Once he catches wind of her worries, he volunteers to lead an informal investigation, and hijinks ensue.

No stranger to coordinating his own infidelities, much to his daughter’s chagrin, Felix calls out Laura’s deflection to close a conversation with the statement “It’s probably nothing.” He suggests that is something you tell yourself in fear and avoidance of something likely very much more than nothing. She also wonders how a woman keeps her desirability. Do you know how to avoid a wild goose chase of guessing? Ask instead of snooping.

Laura grabs a pair of binoculars from her father's neck next to her.
Image courtesy of A24

You cannot always get by on charm. The challenge of skating scot-free on charisma circles back to what shortcomings are being covered by the flair-filled personality and on what the occasion is for all the superficial style. Felix’s jovial chin-wagging can turn on a dime to tongue wagging. He’s asked if he can ever act normal around a woman. He claims his pursuant polygamy is hardwired and missing the emotional filter held by the fairer sex. Can it be that simple when you’re charming or are you really a bit of an a**hole?

The latter is the wrinkle for where this movie is going. Wayans’ husband is merely a background dartboard for watching Jones and Murray carry on. Coppola gave both of these performers infinite leeway, from a recurring gag about whistling to the two trading their own seemingly inside lingo every second they’re together. True to a bit of the stature of Bill Murray himself, the father’s selfish moves for taking over everything for attention set off the real underlying conflict at the heart of On the Rocks. A clash is brewing where all the pent up turmoil cannot remain casually dismissed.

Director Sofia Coppola offer suggestions to Rashida Jones and Bill Murray
Image courtesy of A24

What results with On the Rocks explores more personal themes for what looks and bounces for a bit like a caper film. This is a story of a woman chasing and coming to terms with her personal and familial stability where not even the showy fortunes of privilege can sustain confidence and self-worth. That indeed paints a bigger picture of commentary to be had. Adding this to her diverse filmography, On the Rocks becomes another swirl for Sofia Coppola’s signature of defying expectations. While it is valuable for that level of challenging exploration to put dour on top of delight, that is a trajectory where charm exceeds its limits, and ours, to a degree.

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Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website "Every Movie Has a Lesson" and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. He is also weekly movie trends columnist and occasional podcast contributor for the "Feelin' Film" podcast. As an middle school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.

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