Producers: Youree Henley and Sofia Coppola Director: Sofia Coppola Screenplay: Sofia Coppola Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Barbara Bain, Nadia Dajani, Musto Pelinkovicci, Jules Willcox, Liyanna Muscat, Alexandra Mary Reimer, Anna Chanel Reimer, Mike Keller and Juliana Canfield Distributor: A24 Films and Apple TV+
Even before Bill Murray shows up on screen, the character he plays in Sofia Coppola’s wafer-thin comedy is announced musically by a computerized version of Leporello’s aria “Madamina” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” cataloguing his lecherous master’s many conquests. Felix, as he’s called, is a total hedonist with the money, it seems, to cater to every whim as he jets about the world without a care.
Except, that is, for his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), a New York writer with a businessman husband named Dean (Marlon Wayans) and two delightful kids, Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and Theo (Alexandra Mary and Anna Chanel Reimer). But she’s suffering not just from exhaustion and writer’s block, but from the suspicion—also telegraphed by “Madamina”—that Dean is cheating on her with his new office assistant Fiona (Jessica Henwick).
Enter Felix back from abroad, who coolly informs her, none too helpfully, that infidelity is natural to men. Instead of ameliorating her concerns, he exacerbates them. He also insists that they keep tabs on her husband, following him themselves—in a fashion that turns out to be absurdly inept.
That’s effectively all the plot there is. Jones, an agreeable actress, may have the ostensibly principal role, but in fact she plays second-fiddle straight-woman throughout to Murray, who makes Felix a laid-back rich-as-Croesus superman who knows everyone and has a smile and a contact to handle any situation. When he and Laura are stopped by a cop as they recklessly chase after Dean in an ostentatiously obvious red convertible, for example, it turns out that the policeman (Mike Keller) is the son of an old buddy, and after smooth-talking the man in blue with a stroll down memory lane, Felix even persuades the guy to give him a push. And at the close of the movie, when they’ve followed Dean and Fiona to a Mexican resort, Coppola simply stops the action to let Murray warble a song.
There are occasional grace notes for Jones, as when Laura shares periodic conversations with Vanessa (Jenny Slate), another harried mother, in a school hallway, or visits her grandmother (Barbara Bain). But essentially “On the Rocks” is a show-case for, and in many respects a love-letter to, Bill Murray. Of course it’s fun to watch him doing his thing, but this time around is nowhere near as winning as “Lost in Translation” (2003), his first collaboration with Coppola, though he does bring touches of wistful resignation to several scenes.
Murray’s appearances on screen are sufficiently infrequent that it’s unwise to ignore even those that grace material that’s not of the best, and one has to welcome this one as at least providing him with the opportunity to play the sort of slouching, raffish, sly-eyed dude he’s always been comfortable with. And though Jones is underserved, she’s an ingratiating presence. Wayans is given little to do but smile and act either innocent or guilty, as the moment demands. As for the rest, nobody gets much chance to shine, though Muscat and the Reimers are certainly likable. The film looks good: Philippe le Sourd’s cinematography and Anne Ross’ production design are elegant, and Sarah Flack’s editing is smooth while catering to Murray’s cadenzas.
“On the Rocks” is a phrase, of course, that can refer to a style of drink as well as a troubled marriage, and if one takes it in the former sense, the title might properly suggest a Scotch that’s drinkable but not really top-grade. This is a movie that’s agreeable without being, except for Murray, anything special.