On the Rocks Review
On the Rocks is a tale of an upper middle class woman whose life falls into complete disarray following the sudden arrival of her eccentric father, who installs a chaos into her dull, but distinctly organised, home life. In other words, Sofia Coppola’s latest film feels like it was created to ensure Bill Murray doesn’t need to star in the oft-threatened US remake of Toni Erdmann, a close point of comparison for what otherwise seems like an outlier in her filmography. On the surface, this doesn’t exactly sound like a departure for a filmmaker who routinely examines the disaffection she perceives to come hand-in-hand with a privileged lifestyle - but the criticism frequently thrown her way, that she makes “cold” character studies, couldn’t possibly be used against her here.
The upper class milieu of her previous films is still nakedly apparent, both in the enviable New York apartment inhabited by Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, and the fact Bill Murray, as Jones’ quirky dad, has the wealth and status to do whatever he wishes at a moment’s whim. On the Rocks differs in that it doesn’t interrogate this privilege, and thankfully never ruminates in its worst excesses, resulting in a surprisingly affecting tale of a father/daughter relationship where the affluence onscreen never overwhelms the emotions at the centre. Unlike many of Coppola’s other films, it invites the audience into its character’s lives beyond their surface level alienation, with none of the arm’s length remove of a film like Somewhere, her weakest outing and previous attempt to document how wealth creates distance in a parental relationship.
Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a mother of two who has firmly set into the monotony of parenthood, and a life that offers little in the way of surprises. But this changes when she starts to develop suspicions that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating, after he comes back from a business trip with a co-workers’ item in his luggage. Meeting up for dinner with her eccentric dad Felix (Bill Murray), she recounts this story - and before she knows it, a private investigator has been hired, and she's trailing her husband and spending more time with her dad than she has done in years.
In her previous collaborations with Bill Murray, Lost in Translation, and her 2015 Netflix Christmas special A Very Murray Christmas, Coppola has utilised the familiarity of her star’s public persona for two very different portrayals of being an ageing celebrity forever in the spotlight. On the Rocks is a natural evolution, correlating the public facing appearance of the eccentric star with our knowledge of his far more problematic personal history. It functions as well as a meta-narrative on the conflicted relationship between star and audience, and the limitations at being swept away by their charisma and charm when made aware of their history, as it does a far simpler tale of a daughter whose relationship with her dad has remained somewhat strained due to his past issues.
If viewed solely as the latter, it would be easy to write off On the Rocks as Coppola’s slightest effort: a charming film that doesn’t have a similar intent of purpose as the cultural commentary inherent in her wider filmography. But this apparent slightness is deceptive, with the simplicity in storytelling resulting in her most emotionally immediate work in years. This is the type of auteur effort that is undervalued at the time of release, only to prove itself more rewatchable than any of their more universally acclaimed works - and it’s all down to the organic familial chemistry between Murray and Jones, who deliver a whirlwind of charm that easily bypasses the familiarity of the story being told. Nobody will call this their favourite Sofia Coppola movie, but its status as a comfort blanket in a filmography that routinely examines detachment makes me think it will be frequently revisited by those on its wavelength.
On the Rocks is available to watch on Apple TV+ from October 23.