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Film Review

Watch a potted plant instead

11/4/2020

“On the Rocks”
R | 96 minutes
Director/Writer: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans

Well, that was unfortunate. This was what I thought after seeing the latest Sofia Coppola work.

This movie has Bill Murray in it, and Bill Murray is a national treasure. So why is Bill Murray in this waste of a movie? No question, I give Bill Murray five stars, but giving this movie five stars because Bill Murray is in it would be like giving the world five stars because Bill Murray is in it.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is a wonderful place, and Bill Murray makes it even more wonderful, but if you want to rate a movie you have to take the whole movie into account. Bill Murray is in it, but if you want to watch something, watch a potted plant instead. It will be a lot more enjoyable.

Unfortunately this movie portrays little more than a few preening, vapid, self-important New Yorkers preoccupied with their own vacuousness. (That may not be a word, but you get the idea.) Movies are supposed to have a plot, character development, conflict — things that make the flickering colorful lights on a screen deceive you into thinking you’re doing something other than looking at flickering lights.

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Murray plays Felix, a Billy-Murray-type jet-setter and owner of a Manhattan art gallery who thinks it’s his duty to seduce every beautiful woman who crosses his path. Felix is a livewire on the party circuit, though something of a disaster as a family man. He is in New York to visit his daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones), who never thought much of Felix in terms of father material but stayed in touch. It’s his gift for womanizing that inspires Laura to reach out. You see, Laura, a successful but creatively blocked novelist living in Soho, thinks her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), who has a new start-up business (a website of some sort; the film is super vague) is cheating on her.

It starts one night when Dean, returning from a business trip, zonked out on Xanax, climbs into bed and begins to kiss her quite passionately. “Hi,” she says, surprised. He jolts away, as though he thought she was someone else. Later, she finds a woman’s toiletry bag in his suitcase. He has a valid explanation — his co-worker Fiona couldn’t carry liquids on the plane, so he stashed it in his luggage for her. She makes the mistake of confiding in her father, and he’s immediately convinced that Dean is cheating on her.

“He’s a man,” Felix says. “It’s his nature.”

For Felix, the suggestion that Laura’s marriage may indeed be on the rocks is a perverse form of wish-fulfilment, offering an excuse for him to step into the fray, imparting outdated lessons about life and love while grandstanding in his own gumshoe fantasy, a role he’s clearly enjoying too much.

Scenes of Felix charming traffic cops while Laura rolls her eyes are fun (“It must be very nice to be you”— clearly, she’s talking to Bill not Felix here), but more telling is her embarrassment when he comes on to the waitress or, worse, to one of her daughter’s ballet teachers. When Felix casually declares that he’s become deaf to the sound of women’s voices (“It’s the pitch”), Coppola cuts to the heart of the matter, forcing Laura to finally stand her ground and to remind him that “you have daughters and granddaughters, so you’d better start figuring out how to hear them.”

The film doesn’t have enough fun to be a great comedy, but it also doesn’t delve deep enough into the characters to make for much hard-hitting, compelling drama. There was the potential to go dark at moments here, if the filmmakers didn’t want the comedy to be zany, but the movie lacks bite and genuine emotion at the opportunities where it could inset some.

Beyond Murray, the remainder of the cast feel as though they have been assembled to act as a comic foil against his legendary.

At the end of this movie, I regretted the four hours of my life that I will never get back. The good news is that it was only 96 minutes long. The bad news is you won’t be able to spend the next 2.5 hours talking about how bad the movie was. ♦

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