On the Rocks

Good

I dig Sofia Coppola’s movies. I especially dig her collaborations with Bill Murray. Lost in Translation is an all-time favorite and A Very Murray Christmas is a must see during the holidays. After successfully detouring with the Civil War chamber piece, The Beguiled, three years ago, Coppola’s back on more well-trodden territory with On the Rocks, a reunion with Murray and a contemporary metropolitan setting. Coppola, Murray, and a big city go together like Ford, Wayne, and a horse. And while Rocks may not be a bold new artistic step, it’s a nice victory lap around familiar themes.

Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a late thirtysomething writer, living in New York, raising two young daughters. She’s married to Dean (Marlon Wayans in a rare dramatic role), a busy businessman (I never caught what he did; it’s not terribly important) without much time for his family. Bill Murray’s Felix, Laura’s larger than life father, has more than enough time on his hands, though. When Laura begins to suspect Dean is having an affair, womanizer Felix, with more than a few skeletons in a closet with a wide-open door, immediately suspects the worst and starts egging on Laura’s fears. As father and daughter begin tailing the suspected philanderer through the city, the dynamic duo has a chance to reconnect and maybe understand each other more…but probably not.  

There’s a Bohemian cool to Coppola’s work that just hits me the right way. Her detractors might (rightly) point out her pretentions and habit of focusing on the rich and entitled and their “problems.”  The pretention’s not a surprise. Her pop, after all, is Francis Ford, famous director, vintner, and epitome of artistic effete. Their pretensions, though, seem to come from a genuine love (and understanding of) of art and life rather than trying to look smarter than they are. As for the “problems,” they’re more like problems without the quotation marks. Rich or not, we can relate to what these people go through. And heck, I’m glad Sofia Coppola is writing about what she knows about instead of pretending to know the pain of the poor and downtrodden.

On the Rocks is emblematic of all this Coppola-ness. It’s a little pretentious, and it’s about well-to-do, big city dwellers with marital and family issues. While I don’t live in a fancy-ass apartment in Manhattan with floor to ceiling windows, I do understand Laura and her doubts as she begins facing middle-age and I definitely understand her trouble connecting with her father. The themes are universal.

And when you have the great Bill Murray playing another version of, um, well, Bill Murray, you’re bound to have some entertainment. Watching Murray as Felix interacting with people is fun, like when he flirts with a waitress– or any woman in the movie, really– or when he talks his way out of ticket after speeding through the city in a classic but sputtering Alfa Romero, a car that’s a metaphor for Felix himself. He’s the guy who knows everybody and always knows “a guy” who can help, no matter the situation. You can see why Laura loves and is exasperated by him in equal measure. 

Rashida Jones’ Laura gets a little lost next to Murray. I have to admit that I find Jones more dependable than exciting. She was a good Straight Man on Parks and Recreation and basically fulfills that same function here. She’s overshadowed by Murray, but who wouldn’t be? And maybe that’s kind of the point? Maybe Laura is supposed to be overshadowed by Felix.

Admittedly, this is the weakest of the three Coppola/Murray projects, and as it meandered through New York, my mind did too, more so than in their other outings. But there’s still enough of that Sofia Coppola cool that I like here. A mood somewhere between warmth and ennui, nice location filming, pleasant music by indie pop band Phoenix, and some of that deadpan humor that made me laugh. 

It’s nothing earth shattering, but if you’re expecting that from Coppola, you’re probably barking up the wrong vinery. But if you know her films, On the Rocks will have a familiar ring to it. For me, that ring was a welcome sound. 

-Pavel Klein

On the Rocks begins streaming on Apple TV+ on Friday, October 23


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