On the Rocks, the latest from Sofia Coppola, is a dapper, dreamy dramedy dressed up like a mystery. Laura (Rashida Jones) is an author, struggling with her latest book as she tries to balance her artistic life and her home life with two young daughters and a husband who is constantly away. Said husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is dropping all the cues and clues of a man involved in a love affair, and Laura, doubting herself as writer’s block has her questioning everything from her artistic ability to wifely credentials, becomes entangled in an increasingly complicated plot to follow her husband and determine whether or not he is really having an affair. The person goosing Laura along is her own father, Felix (Bill Murray), himself a chauvinistic and irrepressible womanizer. It is apparent from the beginning that Laura is projecting the instability of her childhood, and Felix’s own history as a philanderer, onto her marriage which makes the final confrontation between father and daughter somewhat anticlimactic, but there is no denying the pleasure in watching Rashida Jones and Bill Murray share the screen.
The real hook of On the Rocks is another great, droll performance from Bill Murray, who is in his element as the caddish but cultured Felix. He is at once obviously a terrible father sharing sexist advice with his daughter and excusing men’s wandering ways as primal instinct, but he also clearly loves Laura and hates to see her beating herself up over something that in no way could be construed as her fault. Felix is a great character, partially deconstructing the kind of Old Hollywood masculinity that dominated pop culture for so long (though one wonders how Felix would read if played by someone like George Clooney, who directly benefitted from associations with that particular brand of masculine glamour), while still offering understanding for the way these men have shaped a generation of daughters. Still, Murray’s natural charm and screen charisma, mellowed from live-wire energy to twinkly wryness after decades in film, brings a certain sparkle to Felix’s eye that makes it easy to understand how the women in his life can continually forgive him despite being a sexist disaster.
Coppola has previously visited the world of jet setting fathers and their daughters in Somewhere, but where that film examines a father getting his sh-t together to better support his daughter, On the Rocks supposes that the jet-setting father never does get it together and that it’s up to his family to find ways to fit him into their lives. There’s too much specificity in the father-daughter interactions to ignore it, and just like Lost in Translation and Somewhere, it invites certain speculation on the real relationships in Coppola’s life. But On the Rocks offers no simple solution, which suggests that father-daughter relationships, no matter how they are or are not shaped by wealth and luxury, are an ongoing project, not unlike Laura’s marriage and the battle between artistic life and domestic life. The most interesting things in On the Rocks deal with Laura’s struggle to balance work and life, but ultimately those things are somewhat relegated to the background to give more of the stage to Felix.
For those put off by Coppola’s almost single-minded interest in the worlds of wealthy white people, having a more diverse cast in On the Rocks doesn’t really change things on that head. Laura’s family is Black, but their problems are those of rich people first and foremost, and only one scene even touches on how race has an impact Laura’s life. There is a bit with two NYPD officers which does not play as fun and charming as Coppola likely means it to, given the NYPD’s often violent clashes with anti-racism protestors earlier this year. Felix is unbothered by the police, though Laura is visibly more wary and suspicious: the only acknowledgment in the film that Laura and Felix move through the world differently.
In one way or another, this is ground Coppola has trod before, and previously to better effect in films like Lost in Translation, but for fans of hers, On the Rocks is a perfectly enjoyable 90 minutes in the specific, luxurious corner of Manhattan that interests Coppola most. Non-fans won’t get as much out of it, except for the pure pleasure of a great Bill Murray performance, but I doubt Coppola is concerned with attracting new fans. She’s just doing what she does, shooting New York with tremendous affection and beauty (lensed by Philippe Le Sourd) while two great actors talk at length to one another. Sofia Coppola has never been particularly apologetic about being interested in the worlds of wealth and power, though here her view of that world is the most domestic it has ever been.
On the Rocks is streaming now on Apple TV+.