Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Movie with Abe: On the Rocks

On the Rocks
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Released October 23, 2020 (Apple TV Plus)

A marriage doesn’t look the same for every person. Some couples are partners in everything that they do, splitting work as evenly as possible and taking an active role in the raising of children. What their involvement is depends greatly on what their work and other commitments may be, but an effort can still be made to ensure that both parties are contributing in an equivalent manner. There are many models in which that is not the case, and some adult children also have an example set for them that they specifically do not want to emulate because what they have witnessed growing up strikes them as a cautionary tale.

Laura (Rashida Jones) is a writer but finds little time to concentrate between running around New York City to get her daughters up in the morning, to school, and to the various locations they need to be at each day. Her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is kind and supportive, but his seemingly constant trips out of town to work on growing his business mean that he is rarely around and almost always takes a backseat to his wife regarding important decisions and the physical labor of attending to their children. Laura makes the mistake of calling her father, Felix (Bill Murray), when she worries that, like he did to her mother many years earlier, Dean may be cheating on her. When Felix shows up in town, he insists on enlivening Laura’s spirits and helping to show her that Dean is indeed being unfaithful.

This film marks the third collaboration between Murray and director Sofia Coppola, whose joint greatest critical success is the Oscar-winning film they made together in 2003, “Lost in Translation.” Murray’s performance in that film earned him an Oscar nomination and featured a quieter departure from his typical comedic routine. Here, his demeanor is overwhelmingly sardonic, and he never lets a moment go by without making the most of it. He embarrasses Laura by flirting with every woman they meet, and, as Laura notes, his chauvinistic comments, wrapped up as intellectual analysis of the human condition, should not have allowed her to become a free-thinking woman capable of existing in the modern world.

The stylized filmmaking that defines much of Coppola’s work, which includes The Virgin Suicides and Somewhere, is mostly absent from this fairly straightforward and normative film. Yet it comes marvelously alive each time Felix shows up, riding in the back of his chauffeured town car or driving a classic Alfa Rameo that barely works through New York City traffic. His energy is indicative of another time that he has managed to remain in for himself, and his interference in his daughter’s life is his way of trying to infuse some of that liveliness into it. Jones is a terrific scene partner, and it’s wonderful to see the talented veteran of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” in a high-profile lead role like this, even if she doesn’t much opportunity to be funny. This dramedy feels relatable and unrealistic at the same time, and the subtle fusion of those two contradictory descriptors is what makes it such a watchable pleasure.

B+

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