Why Bill Murray Makes ‘On the Rocks’ Tolerable

Sofia Coppola's latest demands every ounce of the legend's signature wit

Sometimes a film reminds you why movie stars exist in the first place.

The films themselves aren’t remarkable, or even memorable. When the star in question is on screen nothing else matters. We saw that in the 1980s with Eddie Murphy’s “Golden Child,” but it’s a trend that never went away.

Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” is a prime example. It’s Bill Murray as Bill Murray – cocksure, tart and charming in ways other stars try to duplicate.

They rarely succeed. Murray did it for Coppola in the duo’s wondrous “Lost in Translation.”

The story surrounding Murray this time, though, is a pedestrian one peppered by “only in New York” movie moments. Without Murray you’d be bored and crave a quick resolution.

On The Rocks | Official Trailer HD | A24 & Apple TV+

Rashida Jones plays Laura, a frustrated writer who wonders if her too-good-to-be-true husband (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her.

The spark is fading from their marriage, and Wayans’ Dean spends much of his waking hours at work. Some early, troubling clues pile up, leading Laura to confess her concerns to her wildly rich father.

That’s Murray, playing the avuncular Felix as Murray’s persona on steroids.

He’s funny and flirty, knowledgeable but prone to moments of whimsy. He loves everyone, and everyone loves him. Even Laura, despite how he stepped out on her mother and never recanted his rapscallion ways.

Does Pappy hold a clue to Dean’s behavior? Are men incapable of staying faithful to their wives?

RELATED: Bill Murray’s ‘Loopers’ Gives Caddies an Overdue Salute

The former is a mystery “On the Rocks” is marginally interested in solving. The latter? Why, it’s a subject as old as time, and Team Coppola has few insights to spare on the subject.

So we’re left with warmed over material and a half-hearted mystery. What’s the attraction?

You’ll see whenever Felix is center stage. He turns every exchange into a slowly vibrating event. You wonder what he’ll do or say next, and Murray rarely disappoints.

It’s in the Movie Star Handbook.

Watch Murray’s eyes, his facial gestures, and you’ll see an artist in full command of his instrument.

That can’t distract from the obvious. It takes a full 40 minutes for us to fully engage with the story. That’s far too long for any film, from any director. Yes, Coppola wrings the most out of Murray, but the film would collapse without him. Jones’ Laura acts like a 20-something suddenly realizing men have wandering eyes.

And, gosh, when they accumulate power it sometimes draws other women toward them!

The film’s secondary treats are miniscule. Jenny Slate shines as a self-absorbed dullard who bores Rashida with her observations. Wayans, often a live wire on screen, gets few excuses to show that spark.

The soundtrack feels like warmed over Woody Allen, and that’s a compliment of sorts. The story plods along, with audiences left to wonder about Laura’s lack of urgency regarding Dean’s odd behavior.

If she doesn’t care … why should we?

We’d love to see more of Laura and Dean together, to learn why their relationship clicks … or doesn’t. And can we please retire the cliche about a key character grappling with writer’s block?


HiT or Miss: “On the Rocks” reminds us how good Bill Murray can be in his element. Otherwise, this father-daughter dramedy is wholly forgettable.

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