Synopsis – A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
My Take – While her supporting acting role in the 1990 film, The Godfather Part III, directed by her father Francis Ford Coppola, infamously earned her two Golden Raspberry Awards, but as a writer – director Sofia Coppola instantly cemented her place among top filmmakers with her sophomore feature, Lost In Translation (2003), a film which earned her an Oscar win for Original Screenplay and propelled her stars (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) to their first major awards wins.
Though her other releases have each found their own varied form of successes, for many Lost In Translation continues to strike the emotional nerve for its thought-provoking and self-analytical elements.
As a result, her latest work, backed by independent studio A24 and Apple-owned streaming service Apple TV+, has highly been anticipated as it sees her reunite with Murray, in another jovial, whimsical, and reflective film, possibly making it a companion piece to the 17 year old film.
Having said that, I can confirm that their latest collaboration doesn’t even come close to hitting the heights of their previous encounter, nevertheless, it still manages to be a light and sweet comedy drama that sufficiently delivers a fun, lean and well performed love letter to New York. The charm of director Coppola‘s films does not lie in the plot, but in the storytelling and this one isn’t different.
It is a slow-burn, rightfully so, and much lighter when compared to her earlier works, making this film a case of a simple story well told, and reminder about the power of director Coppola’s unique film-making voice.
The story follows Laura (Rashida Jones), a struggling writer who has not been feeling herself lately. Married to Dean (Marlon Wayans), an entrepreneur, with two kids, her role as a mother has been keeping her completely occupied to explore anything creatively. But the biggest source of discontent remains in her belief about the growing distance with Dean, an assumption which begins to turn into something else when she sees a drunk Dean making an advance at her in bed, but retreat quickly, as if he mistook her to be someone else.
It also doesn’t help that he has been traveling a lot with his incredibly gorgeous co-worker, Fiona (Jessica Henwick). With no one to turn to, Laura ends up confiding in her father, Felix (Bill Murray), a charming and moneyed slick with a full-time chauffeur who deals in high-end art and women, who is convinced Dean is cheating. Though she initially dismisses the idea, Laura goes along with Dean to turn the whole thing into a quasi-spy operation complete with binocular stakeouts, a car chase lifted from an old Hollywood caper and a private detective putting a hot watch on her husband.
What follows is an offbeat father-daughter husband-spying adventure, and an ill-advised one at that. It’s conceptually simple and straightforward, relying on a few clichés to set up the stakes of the story, but once Felix and his womanizing wisdom enter the equation, we’re launched into a strong second act that plays perfectly to Murray‘s film-carrying charisma, with Jones as the perfect companion for the boozy father-daughter hijinks.
Although she rolls her eyes at him and his inability to refrain from flirting even with a very pregnant passerby, there is also an awe and obvious love there too. Though most of the sequences are not something extraordinary different, it’s wonderfully familiar and impossible not to smile at.
In my opinion, the film succeeds mainly as director Coppola continues to showcase her wonderful expertise for character and relationships. With her being considered treatise on male and female expectations that’s revealed through Laura and Felix’s conversations. Far from just a straight sleaze-ball, Felix is a complex, multidimensional character and the clear highlight of Coppola‘s script. Filled with animal kingdom theories of male nature and is wholly convinced that Dean is cheating.
For him, it’s just inevitable that when a wife’s attention turns to the kids, the husband’s attention turns to anyone else. After all, he did the same to Laura’s mother years ago. But it is her treatment of Laura’s character that feels like a natural progression from A to Z. It feels more real and rough around the edges. Kind of like director Coppola herself grew up with this film.
On the one hand, she is bemused by her dad, who correctly identifies a waitress as a ballet dancer and lightly flirts with her. He’s great with his granddaughters, even if he lets them watch a bit of Breaking Bad and puts some old-fashioned ideas in their heads, such as the need to keep their hair long because that’s what boys like, but thinks the world of his daughter.
On the other hand, he seems to be enjoying this detective work and their little adventure of theirs, a bit too much. And then there’s the fact that he’s so comfortable accusing Dean of being unfaithful years after cheating on Laura’s mother. It comes a sense of solace when the mystery is finally solved, for better or for worse, as Laura suggests to Felix the next time he wants to spend some time with his daughter he simply should ask.
However, the film isn’t without its flaws. The central story has a flatness to it in places that you can’t shake and while it doesn’t harm your enjoyment, you may be forgetting it once it’s all over a little too quickly.
Thankfully, we have performers like Bill Murray and Rashida Jones who keep things ticking along nicely enough to keep us enthralled even when it buckles. I think we can all agree that Murray is simply a joy to watch. His effortless charm and natural screen presence command every scene, and as a viewer, you quickly realize you’d be perfectly content to just kick back and enjoy Felix’s antics for hours, driving his daughter around the city, and sweet-talking his way through fun moments along the ride.
Rashida Jones, who has hitherto been boxed as a sitcom actress, breaks the mold and runs with it. She carries the weight of this film quite easily and might not get the credit she deserves. In a change of scenery, Marlon Wayans shows a terrific dramatic versatility which could have never been expected from him.
In a smaller role, Jenny Slate is perfectly annoying as the mother who not only still thinks the world revolves around her, but also that the world is still interested, while Jessica Henwick doesn’t get much scope. On the whole, ‘On the Rocks’ is a gentle, uncompromising and entertaining comedy drama which deserves a watch especially for comedic superstar Murray‘s performance.
Directed – Sofia Coppola
Rated – R
Run Time – 96 minutes