To call Sofia Coppola’s new film On The Rocks her most mature work to date goes without saying – we’re 21 years from her debut The Virgin Suicides, after all. But still, there is an overwhelming sense of wisdom here – as well as a whole lot of fun.
Throughout her career, the esteemed filmmaker has made a name for herself by telling stories of restless young women battling frustration and alienation. The Virgin Suicides looked at suburban family ties and Lost in Translation explored two American tourists in Tokyo while Marie Antoinette dove into the French Revolution. On The Rocks is refreshingly different. Here we follow Laura (Rashida Jones), a successful author living an attractive life in New York City with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and their two kids. So far, so good – until Laura starts to suspect Dean’s attention might be elsewhere, and she rings her debonaire father Felix (Bill Murray) for advice. He loves her, so he drops everything. Quickly, freewheeling chaos ensues.
On The Rocks is Coppola’s chattiest film to date and its best scenes see Jones and Murray riff about the reasons men keep on disappointing women, the ways love can fade and age can start to show. The zippy dialogue keeps the film light on its feet, but there’s a sadness that undercuts the comedy and gives it a more emotional core, too. It feels rare to see a parent who loves their adult child and isn’t afraid to show it without either squirming or the guilt and resentment of mistakes built up over years needing to be brushed under the carpet.
Murray, reuniting with Coppola for the first time since 2003’s Lost in Translation, is evidently having the time of his life, and makes you wish the film was an hour longer just to see him swagger through it. Felix can charm his way into anything and Laura knows it. However, it’s also part of the reason she begrudges his unshakeable charm; it’s the reason he left her mother after cheating on her. As a good father, he’s well-placed to recognise the fact that Laura’s husband should “worship the ground [she] walks on”, yet he’s entirely out of touch with basic understandings of everlasting loyalty himself. So which love runs deeper: marriage or family?
Coppola doesn’t answer this, instead letting her performers talk themselves silly and whizz around the city, gorgeously lensed and perfectly soundtracked by Phoenix, in a cherry red convertible. There’s plenty of screwball comedy in among the existential crises – an excellent subplot involves a particularly funny Jenny Slate (Big Mouth) as one of Laura’s babbling mum friends – as Felix and Laura try and figure out what Dean might be up to. But most importantly, the father and daughter rekindle and reflect on their own relationship, what keeps them together and what threatened to tear them apart.
On The Rocks doesn’t end with any particular moral teaching, and its seemingly happy ending does feel somewhat underwhelming. But when looking back on the ride Murray and Jones took us on, it all feels worth it.
- Director: Sofia Coppola
- Starring: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans
- Release date: October 23 (Apple TV+)