I’m always up for a new Sofia Coppola movie. I’m especially happy to get one in 2020, a year where the vast majority of my most anticipated releases have been pushed back to infinity and beyond. Coppola’s latest “On the Rocks” is a light, easygoing dramedy that still features most of the filmmaker’s hallmarks including her way with dialogue and affection for her characters. It’s also really funny in its own smart and mellow way.
“On the Rocks” is the first film in a multi-year partnership between independent film distributor A24 and Apple. After premiering at the New York Film Festival it received a limited theater release leading up to its streaming debut on Apple TV+ later this month. It stars the sometimes under-appreciated Rashida Jones while reuniting Coppola with the 70-year-old forever young at heart Bill Murray.
Jones plays Laura, a great mom to her two beautiful young daughters and happily married to Dean (a pleasantly subdued Marlon Wayans). He’s the head of his own New York-based company which seems to be taking off. By all accounts Laura is living the life. She’s a talented author working out of their swanky Soho apartment. Her two girls are darling, well-adjusted bundles of joy. Dean is a motivated, good-looking go-getter.
But we begin to see cracks in their sunny domesticity once Laura starts to suspect her husband of having an affair. His chummy relationship with his co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick), the long nights at the office, business trips to London, a mysterious toiletry bag in his luggage. Dean remains impervious to his wife’s concerns and is quick with perfectly reasonable (or perhaps convenient) excuses. Still Laura resists the temptations to believe her husband is a cheater, something that becomes increasingly harder to do the more they stay apart.
Enter Bill Murray. He plays Laura’s father Felix, a character so perfectly tuned for the veteran actor/comedian. Felix is a breezy and shamelessly wealthy charmer; a bonafide playboy with gender sensibilities better left in the 1970’s. He’s also a bottomless well of useless information. Some like “The Russians fed the cosmonauts beluga” are silly and utterly pointless. Others are equally absurd yet thrown out seemingly as archaic attempts at justifying his own sins. “Monogamy and marriage are based on the concept of property.”
Once Felix gets a whiff of Laura’s suspicions he immediately begins fueling her paranoia. His flawed primal reasoning leads him to believe Dean is cheating. After all, it’s “natural“. “Dad, not everyone’s like you” she jabs. But Felix casts just enough doubt to get Laura to agree to a little daddy/daughter detective work. This sets up some of the film’s funniest moments with Murray flashing his signature deadpan sincerity and Jones playing the perfect foil.
But don’t think Coppola turns this into some goofy seen-it-before caper built around cheap laughs and lazy characterizations. ￼Instead she turns the table on us, changing the focus of her story while still keeping it intimate and personal. Yes, it’s quite funny with dry wit and dashes of screwball comedy sprinkled throughout. But it’s the authenticity and warmth of the central relationship the drives Coppola’s smart and laid-back script.
“On the Rocks” isn’t deep or challenging. It’s not particularly nuanced or highly original. Instead Sofia Coppola handles her story and its themes with a effectively light touch. What she gives us is a tasty slice of real life experienced through characters who grab our attention and compel us to listen, laugh and feel. Wayans is an unexpected surprise and who wouldn’t want to venture into the enchanting pre-COVID New York City night in a red convertible with Bill Murray? But the film’s heart and soul is Rashida Jones, an immensely talented actress who proves to be the perfect anchor for Coppola’s latest. “On the Rocks” premieres October 23rd on Apple TV+.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS