wed 28/10/2020

On the Rocks review - an unlikely detective duo | reviews, news & interviews

On the Rocks review - an unlikely detective duo

On the Rocks review - an unlikely detective duo

Suspect your husband of cheating? Who you gonna call?

Zippy little number: Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in 'On the Rocks'A24

On the Rocks has an unusual premise. Laura (Rashida Jones), a New York City novelist and mother of two young daughters, suspects her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair with a co-worker, Fiona (Jessica Henwick). Laura confides her fears to Felix (Bill Murray) and they’re soon zipping around Manhattan at night pursuing Dean and Fiona in Felix’s dyspeptic Alfa Romeo.

On the Rocks has an unusual premise. Laura (Rashida Jones), a New York City novelist and mother of two young daughters, suspects her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair with a co-worker, Fiona (Jessica Henwick). Laura confides her fears to Felix (Bill Murray) and they’re soon zipping around Manhattan at night pursuing Dean and Fiona in Felix’s dyspeptic Alfa Romeo. But Felix isn’t a seedy detective who does divorce work like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown – he’s a well-off, semi-retired art dealer and, what’s more, he’s Laura’s feckless father

The seventh feature written and directed by Sofia Coppola, excluding the Netflix musical comedy A Very Murray Christmas, (2015), On the Rocks is an engaging if not compelling comedy-drama. Jones is convincing as a woman fretting that her life’s about to fall apart, and Murray is on top form as an extroverted ageing roué, liked by everyone to whom he’s unrelated, whose worldly and sometimes off-color explanations of hard-wired mating habits strike a dissonant chord. One of them – about a bracelet symbolizing a man’s ownership of a woman – resonates in the film’s final scene.

The movie is nowhere near as emotionally involving as Coppola’s debut The Virgin Suicides (1999); Lost in Translation (2003), in which she first directed Murray; or even The Bling Ring (2013). The affectlessness that’s one of her cinema’s most valuable trademarks – because characters often convey more in moments of lassitude or during downtime than when they’re overwrought – wears thin on this occasion (pictured below: Damon Wayans and Rashida Jones).

The air was charged even when Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters drifted separately into contemplation on their outings to Tokyo niteries in Lost in Translation, but the air is just air when Laura and Dean sit beside each other in a bar having lost Dean and Fiona’s taxi and survived, through Felix’s charm and his uncanny knowledge of every individual in New York’s five boroughs, a humorous run in with cops.

When Felix was a gallerist in the city, he left his wife – because she gave all her loving attention to Laura and her sister, then children – for his assistant. He left this woman, too, and expresses grief over her early death more than he expresses any awareness, let alone regret, for traumatising Laura and her sister by abandoning his family for his mistress. 

Laura (who dresses in the exact same casual style as Coppola and is rebuked for it by an elderly relation) unwittingly allows Felix to coax her into joining him in his sleuthing because she wants to come to terms with the psychological damage he caused her as an adulterous father. 

Felix insists on helping discover if Dean is being unfaithful because he wants to protect her from a man like himself – if not to assuage his guilt. (He recalls Murray’s Don, a more ruminative self-made man, who seeks out his ex-girlfriends in Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 Broken Flowers.) The teaming of Laura and Felix enables Coppola to probe their relationship, the most important in the film, without losing sight of Laura and Dean’s.

There’s a Woody Allen-ish quality about On the Rocks’s privileged milieu. Sympathy for Laura will be limited for some viewers by her and Dean’s bourgeois lifestyle – she has a writing office to die for in their swank loft in Manhattan’s SoHo district – and deeply felt by others who recognise that she single-handedly looks after the kids while Dean is swanning around restaurants, hotels, and karaoke bars with his attractive colleague, who's naturally younger than Laura. The marriage itself lacks spark and Dean is bland. That's presumably intentional, but it doesn't encourage audience empathy.

The careful listener will glean early on if Dean is being unfaithful or not. The final words spoken by Felix during his and Laura’s investigation indicates whether Coppola feels he has learned anything during the time he has spent with the anxious daughter he still calls “Shorty”.

Bill Murray is on top form as an extroverted ageing roué liked by everyone to whom he’s unrelated

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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