I miss New York City. That’s a weird thing to say since I haven’t left New York City since February, but … you know. It’s been weird watching movies with “New York City as a character” the last few months: this electric city with people everywhere, just going about their business, whatever that may be. When this all first started, these kinds of movies were difficult to watch. But, lately, they’ve been comforting. At least that’s how I felt while watching Sofia Coppola’s new film, On the Rocks (which just premiered at New York Film Festival), which is a great New York City movie. It felt like comfort. It felt like eating a big piece of apple pie. (Full disclosure: I actually did eat a piece of apple pie while I watched On the Rocks, so maybe that has something to do with it.)
New York has rebounded since April, when it was at its worst, and is now somewhat vibrant, but colder weather is on its way. And then there’s On the Rocks, a movie that feels like it’s from another, much better planet. A planet where the biggest worry is that your spouse may or may not be having an affair. (In our world, that feels like something that, if it happened, at this point it would be, “Well, I’ll add it to my list.”) And then there’s Bill Murray, racing his car through the streets of a crowded Midtown (Midtown hasn’t been crowded in months), looking like he’s having the time of his life. Imagine that for a second: having the time of your life. Everything in this movie feels so foreign now, I honestly can’t tell if, in normal times, I’d have enjoyed it. But right now, yeah, I sure did.
Laura (Rashida Jones), a novelist living in Manhattan, is starting to have her suspicions about her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans). He’s been working late a lot at his successful new startup (though I tried to figure out what Dean actually does for a living and all I could come up with was “successful startup owner who talks about social media and ‘clients’ a lot”), he’s acting erratically, and he’s been spending a lot of time with his attractive female coworker.
Laura consults with her father, a Lothario named Felix, played by Bill Murray, who prances and dances through this movie like his life depended on it. Make no mistake, Bill Murray is here in this movie to put on a show. The long-awaited reunion of Murray and Coppola – after 2003’s Lost in Translation, which almost snagged Murray an Oscar – isn’t the introspective, self-aware Bob Harris role. This isn’t Murray self-meditating on his life and career. This is Murray, past all that, deciding, “To hell with all that, let’s have a few cocktails and paint the town red.” This movie feels like the closest we’ll come to just hanging out with Bill Murray for a couple of days.
Which is what Laura does as the two go on an adventure to see just what Dean has been up to. Felix thinks Dean is definitely up to something because, well, Felix speaks from experience and if it were him, he’d be up to something. But Felix is also greasing the wheels a bit because he wants an excuse to hang out with his daughter. And the more she believes Dean is up to no good, the more time he gets with his daughter.
So much time is spent on the father and daughter relationship, it seems to come at the expense of Laura and Dean. Wayans is charming as Dean, but not only do I not believe he and Rashida Jones are married, I have trouble believing they’ve even met before, even though they have two kids. Every interaction between the two feels like something that might be said on a first date.
Coppola also wrote this script and it’s very much written from the perspective of a daughter dealing with a father she loves, but has a few things she wants to get off her chest. And she’s not a stranger to airing out grievances, as she did in Lost in Translation with Giovanni Ribisi’s barely disguised Spike Jonze avatar. But, at this point, who knows. I’m sure she’ll elaborate more on that. And as opposed to Felix, who left Laura’s mother many years before, Coppola’s parents are still married. But, for whatever reason, when Coppola and Murray get together, emotions tend to come out.
On the Rocks is light on plot, but makes up for it with just the sheer joy of Murray and Jones out on the town. The actual plot is only there as an excuse to get the ball rolling for those two. If you’re looking for a night out in New York City with Bill Murray, where he’s singing and dancing his way into your heart, from some carefree other planet that’s almost impossible to recognize now, well you won’t be disappointed. It’s less Lost in Translation and more Remember When Fun Was a Thing?.
‘On The Rocks’ will stream via Apple TV+ beginning October 23rd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.