‘On the Rocks’ Review: Bill Murray, His Scampishness Undimmed, Reunites with ‘Lost in Translation’ Director Sofia Coppola

He's in fine form as the bon vivant father of Rashida Jones, playing a New York author who suspects her husband of infidelity.

On the Rocks
Apple TV +

If you go back and watch Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (2003), you’ll see that it’s lost none of its shimmer — that airily crafted blend of mood and moment, location and dislocation, all wrapped around the delicate tale of two souls who didn’t know they were lost until they found each other in the floating limbo of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. “On the Rocks,” Coppola’s seventh film as a writer-director, marks her creative reunion with Bill Murray, the costar of “Lost in Translation” (which Murray regards as his favorite of his own performances). And so it’s only natural that we go into it hoping for some older-and-wiser version of the same magic. When we first see Murray, he’s in the back of a chauffeured Mercedes, and he looks sensational. The eyes, with their hound-dog melancholy, still twinkle with mischief. There’s a touch more gravel in the voice, and the hair is now white, but it’s perfectly coiffed — and so is the Murray attitude of cynical zen joi de vivre.

He plays Felix, who was once a legendary New York art-gallery owner and is now retired (though he still sells the occasional Hockney on the side). He’s a wealthy bon vivant on a permanent vacation, hopping from Paris to New York, coasting through the days on a happy haze of steak-and-whiskey lunches and Upper East Side art parties, flirting with every woman who crosses his path, even if he happens to be old enough to be her grandfather. More than just a flirt, Felix, as Coppola presents him, is one of the last of the shameless 20th-century tomcats, the kind of man who will whip around to tell a pregnant stranger “You’re beautiful!” or will take a perverse delight in dropping a caveman pensée like “The bangle is a reminder that women were once men’s property.” He’s a proud chauvinist aristocrat who thinks that it’s a man’s nature (and duty!) to gaze, covet, and spread his seed. He’s quite la-di-da about it, yet perhaps it’s no surprise that Felix’s hedonistic me-first ways wreaked havoc within his own family.

In “On the Rocks,” he’s in New York paying a visit to his daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones), who is going through some male-induced drama of her own: She has come to suspect her husband of having an affair. Laura, to judge from all available signposts, has been living the dream. She’s got a big cozy sanctuary of an apartment in the heart of Soho, and Dean (Marlon Wayans), the possibly straying husband (they have two beautiful and wonderfully well-adjusted daughters), is a warm, solicitous dude who has started his own company; we’re not 100 percent sure what it does (it involves client management), but it’s heating up, and the audience understands, as does Laura, how demanding his schedule is. Laura herself is an author, combing through tangles of anxiety over the fact that she can’t seem to get started on the book she’s supposed to be writing. You can tell there’s a deeper disquiet at work every time you look at her tense, downcast, putting-on-a-show-for-people face.

What’s the evidence of Dean’s affair? When he returned home from a business trip, groggy from the Xanax he popped on the plane, he kissed Laura in bed — and when she spoke he acted surprised, as if she were another person. In his suitcase, Laura finds a women’s toiletries case. When she asks Dean about it, he casually says that it belongs to Fiona (Jessica Henwick), the leggy assistant who accompanies him everywhere, and that she couldn’t fit it into her carry-on. That’s not a reassuring explanation, and when Laura checks Dean’s phone, the text messages to Fiona have all been erased. So Laura decides to ask her dad, who’s an old hand in the ways of womanizing duplicity, for advice. He hears her story about Dean’s groggy kiss and says: He thought you were someone else. Then he says: Let’s play detective to find out.

That’s just what they do, and suddenly “On the Rocks” sounds like some father-daughter buddy Hollywood rom-com: desperate woman teams up with wiseacre dad to spy on possibly philandering husband. (Twenty years ago, that could have starred Sandra Bullock, Alan Arkin, and Dermot Mulroney.) Felix shadows Dean’s hotel trail, has him followed to Cartier, and then shows up at Laura’s place driving an ancient red BMW sports convertible, so that they can spend an evening scarfing caviar and spying on Dean as he attends a suspicious client dinner. It sounds dryly amusing, and is, yet Coppola stages all this with her own fluid, open-eyed gaze of inquiry.

“On the Rocks” turns into a boozy humanistic hang-out caper movie, one that’s light-spirited and compelling, mordantly alive to the ins and outs of marriage, and a winning showcase for Murray’s aging-like-fine-whiskey brand of world-weary deviltry. But unlike “Lost in Translation” or Coppola’s other best film, “Somewhere” (which was like “Entourage” directed by Agnès Varda), there’s no extra level of mystery to this one. It holds you, but it’s a little thin.

I’ve been a Rashida Jones fan ever since “I Love You, Man” (2009), and this is the full-scale movie role she deserves. She makes Laura eager, wary, hilariously patient (as when she’s enduring the psychobabble monologues of her school-parent chum, played by Jenny Slate), and quietly teetering on the edge of her world falling apart. Through it all, her journey to redemption is driven by the question: Is Laura’s father, in his flawed rapscallion way, all-seeing? Or does he see what he wants to see? “Lost in Translation” was about a soul-to-soul connection that sidestepped romance. “On the Rocks” is a romance, in which a father and daughter learn who they are through the lens of what love and trust are really about. The movie cruises forward on all of Coppola’s gifts, yet it’s just good enough to make you wish it were major.

‘On the Rocks’ Review: Bill Murray, His Scampishness Undimmed, Reunites with ‘Lost in Translation’ Director Sofia Coppola

Reviewed at Digital Arts, Sept. 21, 2020. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

  • Production: An Apple TV Films, A24 release of an American Zoetrope production. Producers: Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley. Executive producers: Roman Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Fred Roos.
  • Crew: Director, screenplay: Sofia Coppola. Camera: Philippe Le Sourd. Editor: Sarah Flack. Music: Phoenix.
  • With: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Barbara Bain, Nadia Dajani, Musto Pelinkovicci, Jules Wilcox, Alexandra Mary Reimer, Anna Chanel Reimer.