Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is a showcase for the effortless charm of Bill Murray


Sofia Coppola's films have often been about characters buffered by their own wealth and privilege, often to their own detriment — the aging movie star wandering through Tokyo in Lost in Translation, the young queen isolated inside Versailles in Marie Antoinette, the lonely southern estate and its haunted inhabitants in The Beguiled. Her latest feature, On the Rocks, is less emotionally suffocating than any of those earlier films — in fact, it's certainly her lightest film — but it nonetheless continues her obsession with rich people whose problems are only exacerbated by their richness.

In this case, it's Rashida Jones as Laura, a successful novelist in the throes of writer's block. Her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), has been distracted by his new tech company, and a series of unusual gestures and passing comments has her convinced that he's having an affair with a coworker. She makes the mistake of confessing this to her father, Felix (Bill Murray), a lifetime lothario and art dealer, who doubles down on her suspicions. Men aren't hardwired to be faithful, he explains as he sips a martini, and her beloved Dean is just as susceptible to temptation as anyone else.

Felix encourages Laura to further investigate the matter, and he's going to help her out. They sit in his vintage car down the street from the bar where Dean is drinking, eating caviar and waiting for something untoward to happen. Felix begins monitoring Dean's credit card history and notices that he spent thousands of dollars at Cartier but never gave Laura any jewelry. And when Dean announces that he's heading to Mexico with his colleagues, Felix already has the plane tickets ready to go.

Much of On the Rocks unfolds like an episode of Three's Company for the wealthiest 1 percent, with Laura and Felix sneaking around and ducking behind potted plants and improvising their way out of compromising positions. This scenario occasionally falls into Roger Ebert's definition of the "idiot plot," in which all of the drama would work itself out if the characters stopped behaving like dummies. We expect more from Coppola, whose screenplays are usually more sophisticated in their structure and subtext.

But what works in the film is the chemistry between father and daughter, and we're forced to wonder if Coppola is borrowing from her relationship with her own famous dad. As the droll, shrewd Felix, Murray delivers what may be the quintessential Bill Murray performance: He's basically a repository of suave pickup lines and trivia factoids, the sort of guy who's always in the right place at the right time, who can maneuver his way out of a speeding ticket by massaging the officer's ego. He rescues what ends up being a minor work in the oeuvre of a great filmmaker. ♦