Bill Murray is in the enviable position of having talented filmmakers writing scripts with him in mind. Sofia Coppola struck gold with him some years ago with Lost in Translation and has come through with another appealing vehicle, On the Rocks.

Murray occupies a unique place among movie stars. His quirky appeal has stood the test of time—it’s been forty years since Caddyshack!  He’s not a one-trick pony, yet his screen persona is so potent that he seems to be doing what actors like Cary Grant and John Wayne used to be accused of: playing himself. That ignorant assessment was an insult to their talent, and it’s no less true of Murray. He is acting in roles that have been hand-crafted to play to his strengths.

Coppola has cast him as the wealthy, devil-may-care father of Rashida Jones, who is happily married (to hard-working Marlon Wayans) and busily raising two young daughters in Manhattan. Dad turns up on the spur of the moment—which seems to be the only way he functions—and intrudes on Jones’ hectic life. She loves him and enjoys his company, but he harbors suspicion about her husband and his frequent absences in the company of his female associate.

Murray’s character is a male equivalent of Auntie Mame, a larger-than-life father who takes her out of her everyday life and responsibilities, devising adventures for the two of them, ostensibly as a way of checking up on her husband. He dresses beautifully, is always well turned out and drives a cool car—when he isn’t being chauffeured.

Sustaining this kind of antic comedy is no small achievement, but On The Rocks never wears out its welcome. Coppola has taken a page from the old Woody Allen playbook and presented New York City at its best, swanky and oddly devoid of vehicular traffic. Jones is a likable co-conspirator, and both she and Wayans’ characters ring true.

Only Murray wears the cloak of a wish-fulfillment figure, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He is utterly endearing. Coppola never loses her grip on this bauble of a story and paints a delightful picture of unabashedly affluent New Yorkers, with the help of cinematographer Philippe LeSourd and production designer Anne Ross. This is escapism at its best.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024