“On the Rocks” (R, 96 minutes, Apple TV+) tells a slight story, but its heart and charm more than make up for it.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the comedy stars Bill Murray (an Oscar nominee for Coppola’s best film, “Lost in Translation”) and Rashida Jones, working in top form as a father and a daughter on a mission.
Laura (Jones), a writer, is married to Dean (Marlon Wayans), and they have two young daughters. While Dean is off on business trips, Laura often is left home in New York City performing such parental duties as walking the kids to school, getting them ready for bed, etc. When she finds any time to write, she’s blocked, and when she and Dean have a moment alone in the bedroom, they’re either too tired for physical intimacy or they are interrupted by the kids.
In other words, Laura and Dean are experiencing what many couples do once children and other responsibilities come into the picture.
Still, Laura is worried. Has Dean become bored with her? Could he be looking elsewhere for romance?
Enter Felix (Murray), Laura’s dad, who’s far from reassuring. A successful art dealer, Felix has long led the life of an international playboy, and, around 70, he’s still an incorrigible flirt. “Can you ever just act normal around any woman?” Laura asks, while a typical question from Felix is: “Did I ever tell you about the Rockette that I dated?”
Felix pontificates, a lot, about men and women and their differences. Men, he suggests, just can’t help themselves when they see an attractive woman. Desire takes over. So when Laura admits to him that she’s worried Dean might be straying, Felix assumes the worst and is quick to take action. He uses his contacts to report on Dean’s activities, and he persuades a reluctant Laura to get a babysitter and go out to play detective with him.
Throughout all of this, father and daughter talk. And it’s through their conversations that you can experience the real joy to be found in this film. Felix has so much charisma that it’s easy to believe women, and men, would be drawn to him, and while Laura can certainly appreciate this (“It must be very nice to be you” she tells him, somewhat sarcastically, after he wins over a New York City cop), she also challenges him (“You’re such a baby” she blurts out after he confesses his need for attention).
Despite the glamorous New York settings and Felix’s larger-than-life persona, the father-adult daughter dynamic rings true, and you can feel the deep love Felix and Laura have for each other. (Perhaps Coppola, daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola of “Godfather” fame, is drawing from experience here.) “On the Rocks” might, on the surface, seem mostly clever, but it’s very moving, too.
And it’s hard to imagine anyone playing these roles better than the perfectly matched Murray and Jones, both so bright and funny. Rating ***½ (out of four)
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (R, 95 minutes, Prime Video). Originally titled “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” this pointed, often crude mockumentary features the return of Sacha Baron Cohen as fictional TV journalist Borat Sagdiyev of Kazakhstan.
In the first “Borat” feature, the character is sent by the Kazakhstani government to tour, and make a documentary about, the United States. While Baron Cohen and other cast members are in character, the film takes a “Candid Camera” approach by placing Borat and company in “real” situations with “real” people who are unaware of the satirical high jinks going on. That way, Borat can deliver a “bomb-’em-to-oblivion”-type speech at a rodeo, and the cheering crowd in the stands takes him seriously.
Now, 14 years later, Borat/Baron Cohen is up to his old tricks, only this time, of course, it’s the Trump/pandemic era. Borat has been sent back by his government, as the film’s original title suggests, with a bribe, which eventually is Borat’s 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), whom he plans to deliver as a bride to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. In keeping with his country’s (supposed) customs regarding gender relations, Borat treats Tutar as a possession, often keeping her in a cage.
Borat’s attitude toward his daughter, his anti-Semiticism (he’s delighted to learn the Holocaust isn’t a hoax) and his other absurdly awful qualities are used for comedic purposes throughout the film. There’s a segment, for instance, when he attends an ultra-conservative anti-lockdown rally and, posing as a performer, sings: “Journalists, what we gonna do? Chop’ em up like the Saudis do!” The clueless crowd, of course, eats it up.
The sequence is both oddly funny and disturbing, as intended. A later controversial (and, by now, high publicized) sequence in which Tutar tries to seduce an unsuspecting Rudy Guiliani while she poses as an interviewer is just disturbing, in a very creepy way.
Overall, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is a mixed bag. It’s admirable in its efforts to depict the dark, often ridiculous, side of our society, and there are times when the film makes you bust out laughing. But the Borat character and the offensive, no-holds-barred brand of humor grow repetitious and tiresome. Sacha Cohen is like that bright, rebellious middle-school show-off sitting in the back of the class: He can be amusing, but only in small doses. And I’m not sure Sacha Cohen is really showing us anything that, to our frustration, annoyance and concern, we don’t already know. **½
P.S. This review of the “Borat” movie was written on the night before the election. We’ll see if my feelings about this movie change at all after the ballots are counted. I have no idea.
Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org. (You read that right: midnight to 3 a.m. Remember, sleep is overrated.) Those who aren’t night owls will find archived recordings of the shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic.
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