ON THE ROCKS – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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Much like the many cocktails consumed by its appealing star duo, Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” serves up surprisingly relatable dramedy that’s smooth, refreshing and more potent that initially anticipated.

Coppola reunites with her “Lost in Translation” leading man, ever-appealing cultural icon Bill Murray, for the engaging father-daughter story co-starring Rashida Jones (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”).

Jones’ Laura is a well-heeled New Yorker grappling with writer’s block on her latest book and overwhelmed by her hectic family life with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), who is busy starting his own company, and their adorable daughters, grade-schooler Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and preschooler Theo (twins Alexandra and Anna Reimer). When frequent flyer Dean arrives home late one night from a business trip and seemingly rebuffs Laura’s romantic overtures, she initially blames his pre-flight Xanax and jet lag for his lack of interest.

But Laura’s playboy father Felix (Murray) has another theory: Dean could be having an affair, possibly with his smart and sexy new assistant Fiona (Jessica Henwick). A legendary ladies man and retired Manhattan gallery owner (who still wheels and deals on the side), Felix pulls the reluctant but concerned Laura into a series of daddy-daughter dates that all manage to culminate in increasingly absurd efforts to spy on the possibly wayward Dean.

It might not be a world-changing work of cinema, but “On the Rocks” bubbles over with wit and verve. Coppola keeps the drama understated, which makes it feel real, and sprinkles in plenty of keen observations and cutting questions about gender politics, marriage, monogamy, family ties and forgiveness.

Mostly, the film serves up a sparkling showcase for the effervescent chemistry between Murray and Jones. The former brings all his considerable devilish charisma to bear as Felix, an unrepentant philanderer who still can’t resist the urge to charm every woman he encounters as he gads about at hot spots all over Manhattan. When he picks up Laura for a stakeout in a temperamental classic red convertible with caviar and champagne for spy snacks, you can’t helped but be charmed, or to shake the sense that Felix is as interested in just spending time with his daughter as he is in helping to sort out her potential family troubles.

An experienced straight woman, Jones not only provides a foil for Felix’s shenanigans, but she also brings a nuanced emotional depth to her character, who is aware that her family could be teetering on the brink of a disaster that feels all too familiar considering she lived through her parents’ breakup. Most modern women can relate to Laura’s constant simmering anxiety as she struggles to balance marriage, family, work and some semblance of a social life. The latter includes a funny running gag featuring Jenny Slate as fellow mom who can’t stop blathering in the school drop-off line about the soapy affair she embarked on during Hurricane Sandy.

With the jazzy music by French indie rock band Phoenix and the loving cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd, “On the Rocks” also offers an adoring toast to the relentless cosmopolitan energy of New York, although that toast feels a little wistful in the days of pandemic lockdowns.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On The Rocks is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for October 15, 2020

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.