Even with theaters re-opening, there are still many options on where to stream movies at home. I caught up with the new film from Sophia Coppola.
In 2004, Bill Murray got robbed.
The comedian and actor was in the middle of one of the great second acts in all of film, and it felt like the apex of that was going to be his role as Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Murray, who had started taking roles that allowed him to show more range since 1998’s Rushmore, delivered not just the best performance of his career, but- HANDS DOWN- the best performance of that year.
Of course, life isn’t fair. In a twist that could only happen to a Bill Murray character, he lost the Best Actor Oscar to Sean Penn, who was fine in the wildly forgettable Mystic River. I’ve watched Lost In Translation over thirty times since I first saw it in the theater, while I can’t even tell you which of the many rivers is supposed to be the mystic one that Penn is looking for, or whatever that stupid movie was about.
While Bill Murray has been good- and even great- in roles since Lost In Translation, I don’t know that he’s ever captured that same magic. There’s something about Sofia Coppola that brought out every facet of what he could do; from broad comedy to deep emotional anguish to self-loathing to doubt. Coppola knew how to use Murray perfectly in that film, and the two of them teamed up again for 2015’s A Very Murray Christmas, which was a delightful little Netflix special. But I wanted to see the two of them collaborate again like they had in 2003.
On The Rocks, Coppola’s seventh feature film as a writer/director, has Murray playing Felix Keane, a philandering art dealer, but this is not his story. Rather, it’s the story of his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), a mother of two who feels a little rudderless and worried that her husband (Marlon Wayans) may be having an affair with one of his co-workers. When Laura confesses her suspicions to Felix, he uses it as an opportunity for the two of them to have a detective adventure trying to suss out the truth.
If you’re looking for more of a plot, you’re not really going to get it, but that has always been a strength of Sofia Coppola. Her scripts just seem to be in service of her actors- just being enough for them to dive in and give wonderful performances. None of her films have a whole lot of moving pieces, but that allows for some of the best performances to happen (Murray and Scarlett Johannson in Translation, Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette, Stephen Dorff in Somewhere, etc.) because the characters have room to breathe and develop in the spaces.
Murray is fantastic here. Yes, his Felix Keane overshadows everyone in every scene he’s in. But if he didn’t, then the character wouldn’t work. Felix has to be this charismatic, devilishly outlandish cad in order for the role to work. And Murray knows how to play the role so we don’t think that Felix is a good guy, but also know that if we were visiting New York City for a night, he would be the guy we would want to hang out with.
In fact, here’s how good Murray is in this film: despite the fact that he is top-billed in the film, Felix is, without a doubt, a supporting character. This movie is Rashida Jones’ story (and she’s in every scene) and Murray exists only to help move along her story. However, Murray is just so, well, Murray. And while I love that, it makes me concerned that A24 (my favorite studio of present) will not try and market him in the Supporting Actor categories. And that would be a shame, because this is the best supporting role of 2020 so far.
And while Murray is great, I’m not so sure Jones isn’t better. She certainly has a tougher job as an actor, and not just because she’s the emotional center of the movie and has to play someone with all of this concern and anxiety, which she does very well. In her scenes with Murray, she has to give as good as she gets. She plays Laura as someone who is also able to see Felix’s charms and enjoys being in his universe, but also someone who can get very sick of her bullshit, especially because she was affected by it. It’s hard to understand how a daughter can have a good relationship with her adulterous father, but Jones makes us see how that’s possible.
The movie is really just set up to showcase Jones and Murray, but credit also needs to be given to Marlon Wayans, who plays Laura’s husband Dean. Through most of the movie, Wayans just has to play a guy who’s pretty great and cool and aloof. But there’s a scene near the end of the film where Wayans needs to bring his fastball and deliver a great performance, because if he doesn’t then the whole film suffers due to a flat ending. Wayans is absolutely pitch perfect in this scene, to the point where it makes me wish I saw more of him throughout the movie.
I haven’t mentioned Sofia Coppola in a while, but credit needs to be given to her as a skilled director and writer. Her script is effortless and her eye as a director remains on just letting her actors give solid performances. She’s built a career kind of as a chameleon, more than willing to just blend in the background and let her players do the heavy lifting. When you have players like Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, that’s more than enough.
On The Rocks- 8.5
On The Rocks is now available to stream on Apple TV+.