On the Rocks (2020)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenwriters: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate
Following her debut feature film The Virgin Suicides (1999), critically acclaimed 21st century filmmaker Sofia Coppola established her name with her sophomore feature Lost In Translation (2003), stepping out from the shadow of her father Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather; Apocalypse Now) to earn Best Picture and Best Director nominations at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs, earning an Oscar win for her Original Screenplay and propelling her stars to their first major awards gongs – Scarlett Johansson would win a Best Actress award at the BAFTAs and Bill Murray would be crowned Best Actor by the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars in 2004. Coppola’s latest, the much anticipated On the Rocks, sees her reunite with Murray for the pair’s first feature film collaboration since their tremendous success in the early 2000s, the filmmaker working with independent studio A24 for the 2nd time (the first being for The Bling Ring) to bring this comically edged drama to the Apple-owned streaming service Apple TV+. It’s a lean and well performed love letter to New York that acts as a reminder as to the power of Coppola’s unique filmmaking voice.
Here, Bill Murray plays Felix, an art gallery proprietor who decides to help his daughter Laura (played by Rashida Jones – The Sound of Silence) prove or disprove the infidelity of her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans – Requiem for a Dream), by following him “incognito” across the streets of New York. What ensues is a series of well drawn hijinks that make the most of both Murray’s and Jones’ comedic chops.
On the Rocks has received largely positive reviews across the board, if perhaps falling a little short of the universal acclaim heaped on Coppola’s most critically successful offering Lost In Translation. In a 4-star review for Empire Magazine, Terri White remarked that “There’s a quiet, often intoxicating charm to the rhythms of this film”, but also made note that Coppola perhaps loses subtlety in relaying the generational gap between her two main characters. Meanwhile, a review by Hannah Woodhead published by Little White Lies explained On the Rocks as the “least Sofia Coppola, Sofia Coppola film”, noting its shift in tone from her previous films and particularly that of its immediate predecessor The Beguiled (2017).
The film that most warrants direct comparison to On the Rocks however, is Lost In Translation, and not just by virtue of Bill Murray’s casting. In the 2003 release, Coppola submerged her characters in their surroundings, making the city of Tokyo a character in of itself as she presented its dense skyline and rich mix of neon lights and colliding cultural priorities, and in On the Rocks she does the same with New York City. We are shown many glimpses of the iconic New York skyline both at night and in the day, evoking the likes of Annie Hall, and are treated to its many cinematic riches at street level too. It looks and feels every bit the so-called “traditional New York movie” it has promised to be.
If anything, Bill Murray’s presence is actually an element of On the Rocks that helps to contrast it with Lost In Translation, the experienced actor taking on a character who is much more self-assured. Unlike Translation’s Bob Harris, Felix is a chauvinist who will seemingly flirt with every woman he comes into contact with; he jokes, makes inappropriate comments and seems totally at one with himself. Credit must go to Murray in this regard, as he gives perhaps his finest lead performance in years outside of his continued working relationship with Wes Anderson, elevating every scene.
While Murray is superb and an undoubted point of interest, On the Rocks is equally Rashida Jones’ show. The screenwriter, producer and actor of the likes of ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Office’ acts as a fine foil to Murray’s outgoing comedic character, offering a more subdued performance in a down to earth role that provides Coppola’s piece with the drama that gifts the film resonance. Laura struggles with looking after her children and questions why her father is finding so much joy in attempting to uncover an affair that could potentially destroy her life, and yet Jones’ tremendous chemistry with Murray really sells the warm relationship between the two, ensuring that this is a film much more about the relationship between a father and daughter than it is a film centred around Laura’s marriage.
On the Rocks proves to be a successful reunion between Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray, making excellent use of its wider cast and New York setting to offer a sweet and fun-filled 90 or so minutes of cinema. Boasting a lighter tone than a lot of Coppola’s previous films, it is possible that On the Rocks comes to be looked upon unfavourably in comparison to Lost In Translation, but this film has already proven itself to be more of a critical hit than a lot of the filmmaker’s recent work and should be considered among her best; On the Rocks being the latest piece of evidence to illustrate how Coppola continues to forge her own path in cinema, her mark growing by the year in what is now her fourth decade as a filmmaker.