Review: ‘On the Rocks’ (We’re gonna meet people!)

When doubt enters the mind, one falls back on what they know.

Laura (Rashida Jones) is a writer and stay-at-home mom with a good life and happy family living in New York City. When she begins to feel her business-traveler husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) growing distant, she believes her suspicions confirmed by a toiletry bag in his luggage belonging to Dean’s co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick). Unsure of what to do, she explains the situation to the only person she believes both knowledgeable and on her side: her knows-everyone playboy dad Felix (Bill Murray) who takes the sleuthing opportunity as a chance to spend long-sought quality time with his daughter.

Writer/director Sofia Coppola once again reunites with muse Bill Murray for another old guy/young gal adventure that’s lighthearted in banter while still exploring a serious topic. With a pre-COVID NYC backdrop and a full-of-charm trailer, one might suspect the plot to serve itself as a mere means to entertain; setup the so-so situation and let Bill charm Ms. Jones and audiences alike. The question is, can the finished film allow Mr. Murray off the chain while maintaining real-world consequences to lend the story necessary weight?

Yeah, it’s “The Bill Murray Show” as the goofy must-entertain dad, but in spite of the antics, the situation doesn’t lose its punch. The film uniquely transfers the main character’s plight to the viewer, entertaining yet worrisome regarding what’s about to happen. It’s surprisingly sweet, very complete, and thoughtful to a fault. It showcases a mature relationship fraught with Shakespearean miscommunication while successfully sugarcoating it with a needy parent taking advantage of a dire situation… and alcohol, of course.

Fueled by insecurity rooted in experience with a father’s situation, its caper-film format is superimposed of a journey of discovery. As if it weren’t possible to love Bill Murray more, he tees up the interplay with Jones so comfortably it sells the character’s relationship in an instant. At the same time, Felix isn’t perfect, but he’s far more comfortable with who he is than daughter Laura, who clearly still blames her father for past events. The moments where everything comes to bear are as tough as they are revealing, but the denouement comes just as naturally.

Where the film misses is in resolving the couple’s relationship issues, reducing their existential crisis to a mere catalyst to concentrate on the father-daughter story. It also fails to address the specific behaviors that cast suspicions — suggesting all will be happily-ever-after post credits — content to let viewers assume the resolution. Nonetheless, what the film aspires to be is something to be enjoyed, and that fulfills a need all on its own.

On the Rocks is inexplicably R-rated for ridiculously tame language and sexual references.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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