Photo | “On the Rocks” – A24
Sofia Coppola’s quiet delight “On the Rocks” is finally out for rent, so those of us without Apple TV can finally see it. Maybe no one else was on the edge of their seat waiting on this release, but since Coppola’s Oscar-winning 2003 “Lost in Translation” is one of my favorite films, and her “A Very Murray Christmas” is an idiosyncratic holiday must-watch, I was eager to see the director paired once more with her sardonic muse Bill Murray.
In “Lost in Translation,” Murray played an older almost-boyfriend to a brunette young lady who I always viewed as a Coppola surrogate. In “On the Rocks,” he plays the father of another brunette, presumably another Coppola. “On the Rocks” has Rashida Jones as Laura, a wife, mother and writer who is not feeling particularly successful in any of those roles. With two young kids to shuttle around Manhattan, Laura’s life starts to look boring compared to her husband’s, an increasingly successful businessman named Dean (Marlon Wayans).
As Dean’s vaguely defined business takes off, he takes off, too, on many business trips in the company of his foxy co-worker Fiona. Laura struggles to attack the novel for which we learn she has been given an advance, a clue she is already somewhat established; she is not just an aspiring writer. When Laura becomes increasingly suspicious of Dean and Fiona’s relationship, she asks for advice from an infidelity expert, her rakish father Felix (Bill Murray). As a seasoned womanizer, Felix automatically assumes Dean is cheating, describing it as a male’s biological imperative.
The fun of the film is the sophisticated father-daughter pair zipping around Manhattan together on stakeouts, trying to catch Dean as they share caviar and cocktails at such classy locales as The Carlyle hotel and 21 Club. Murray makes a meal of the material, clearly relishing the act of advising and just hanging out with his daughter. It makes one question his motives. Does he really believe Dean is misbehaving or does he just love showing off? Witness his glee at getting pulled over, zipping through a red light in his tiny Italian convertible, then getting the added pleasure of smooth-talking his way out of trouble to the extent that the officers actually push the car so it will start.
Like Coppola’s other films dealing with celebrities, this film succeeds in small moments that feel really authentic. It is interesting to view “On the Rocks” as a film about a woman who feels overshadowed by her illustrious father, a legend who knows everyone, everywhere he goes. This is something Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, must know a lot about, and her star, Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones, probably does as well. A lot of what these women show us about the difficulties of motherhood, wifehood and daughterhood feel emotionally true and subtly expressed at the same time.
There are, however, some blind spots in Coppola’s film. She seems to know everything about what a wealthy, intellectual Manhattan mother would wear and do and where she would go. But she doesn’t know much about whatever job she intended the husband to have. You can tell the parts of the film that interested Coppola most; she might have just tacked up the rest of the film around the wonderful scene where Murray drives the sports car that is packed with a little travel bag of caviar. The scenes between father and daughter really sang. Some of the other dialogue was strangely bad. Like try another take — are they making these lines up on the fly? — bad.
The resolution of the struggle between the married couple Laura and Dean was so rushed it supports my theory that this whole endeavor was just an excuse to hang out with Murray on screen. And, having watched “On the Rocks” and gotten to hang out with him on screen, this is a very good reason. While the overall story isn’t terribly profound on the subjects it explores, there are some moments that take place, some gestures, some small truths, that are indelible.
“On the Rocks” is currently available to rent.
New This Week:
“The Last Bus”: An elderly man, Tom (Timothy Spall), whose wife has just passed away, uses only local buses on a nostalgic trip to carry her ashes all the way across the UK to Land’s End, where they originally met, using his free bus pass. Unbeknownst to Tom, his journey begins to capture the imagination of the locals he comes across and, ultimately, he becomes a nationwide story. Crescent Theater.
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