Our Take: 4/5 Stars
Sofia Coppola (“The Virgin Suicides’’) is known for films that have a tenuous connection to reality. She is an expert at taking the world and twisting it into a saccharine and pastel vision — but, her latest film “On the Rocks” is different. The film received a limited theatrical release from A24 on Oct. 2 and became available on Apple TV+ on Oct. 23. “On the Rocks” is tightly tethered to reality, a seeming departure from Coppola’s usual work.
Just as Laura begins to suspect that her husband may be having an affair with his assistant, her estranged father, Felix, pops back into her life. Felix, portrayed by Bill Murray (“Rushmore”), is an art-dealing, larger-than-life playboy. What follows is a captivating father-daughter adventure through the streets of New York City filled with sleuthing, caviar and drinks on the rocks.
The film is marketed as a comedy, and though it has its shining moments of humor, it is much more a drama. Rashida Jones (“The Social Network”) stars as Laura, a novelist nearing middle-age and struggling with her home life. A mom of two young girls in New York City, Laura is constantly busy and receives little help from her travelling consultant of a husband, Dean (Marlan Wayans, “White Chicks”).
Ultimately, what makes this movie worth the watch is the chemistry between Murray and Jones. Coppola’s scripts are often scarce; she often relies on soundtrack, setting and glances to convey meaning. Here, Coppola has Murray spouting unwanted advice, lightning fast quips and hairbrained theories about the evolutionary basis of relationships. He literally never stops talking.
Still, he is effortlessly charmless; Felix is a role only Murray could do justice to.
Jones’ performance is also noteworthy — her banter with Murray feels incredibly real, as though it is built on a decades-long relationship only a father and daughter could have.
She is quietly funny and incredibly relatable. Jones conveys the uncertainty of a woman unsure where she stands with her partner so accurately it is impossible not to relate to her.
Coppola’s filmography has clearly documented the experience of being a young woman — whether it is Marie Antoinette, struggling within Paris’ 18th century court or sheltered high school girls in 1970s America struggling with their religiously conservative parents.
“On the Rocks” marks a new chapter for Coppola; the film interrogates the experience of an aging woman. Jones’ Laura must make sense of a world where she feels unwanted, used and old.
This more somber tone makes for a less exciting film. While it is still fun to watch, it does not have the same encompassing experience as the rest of Coppola’s filmography. Instead of transporting the viewer to another world where everything is beautiful, “On the Rocks” tries to find beauty in the gray reality of this world.
Often criticized for her aesthetic-heavy style and a lack of substance, Coppola rejects this in this film.
It is toned down, more mature in every way. Laura’s life lacks any romanticization. Felix, however, is larger than life with his red vintage sports car, little gentleman’s scarf and penchant for ballerinas; he is a caricature of a caricature of a classical gentleman.
“On the Rocks” is a fun, enjoyable and emotional movie. Still, the film feels unfinished. It ends abruptly, and without spoiling the ending, is entirely unfulfilling. The pressure building throughout the entire film is never released and as the credits roll, viewers are left wanting more. Unfortunately, not in a complementary way.