Sometimes when one is picking a movie to watch, the best choice is one that is easy to sit back, relax and enjoy. For those choosing such a film, On the Rocks, the new Bill Murray-Sofia Coppola collaboration on Apple TV Plus, is perfect. It is a somewhat subdued and overtly charming relationship comedy that serves as my favorite Coppola film since her early work, and while that is not saying too much (movies like The Beguiled and The Bling Ring weren’t for me), it is still an engaging watch. Similar to other Coppola films, On the Rocks is very short yet slow-paced and it takes its time to let the relationships develop, but I never found it to be boring throughout the runtime. The movie is never too memorable and will not blow anyone away with its fantastic writing or directing, but it serves as an interesting look on relationships, whether it be father-daughter or husband-wife.
The movie follows Laura (Rashida Jones of Parks and Recreation), a happily married woman who lives with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and her two kids in a beautiful Soho apartment. The two are extraordinarily well-off, which is both a major factor of the story and is never brought up at all. Near the beginning of the film, Laura is lying in bed when Dean arrives in a Xanax-induced stupor and kisses her, but stops when he realizes that it’s her. This makes Laura think he is cheating on her during the constant long business trips he embarks on, and when she finds another woman’s body oil in his bag, her suspicion goes through the roof. Once she tells her rich womanizer father (Murray), things morph into full-fledged detective mode as they track Dean’s whereabouts and follow him around the city. Is Dean really cheating on her? Or is her father just using his overspeculation and misogyny to instigate his own views into his daughter’s life?
The obvious highlight in On the Rocks is Bill Murray as Felix, who gives a typically charismatic and charming performance as a man who views women as objects yet will still charm viewers’ pants off. He portrays a “player” in this film, and he nails every detail that requires him to be both a snob and a fascinating art dealer who often talks about history as if he was there. His best scenes are the ones he shares with Jones, who also shines because their chemistry is what anchors the entire film. If these two main performances didn’t quite land the film might have lost me, but since both consistently show emotion and humor throughout, I was always interested. Both actors are great at showing the pasts of their respective characters through actions and mannerisms, which is essential so the audience can see why the father and daughter have not been close for the past couple of years.
The best aspect about this film is the father-daughter relationship, and Coppola’s comment on the responsibilities of a father when his child grows up and lives her own life was what resonated with me the most when the movie finished. The movie opens with a black screen and Murray’s character Felix saying to his young daughter that he will never let another man take her away even when she is married. His actions throughout On the Rocks prove he means this statement, and as the movie progresses the audience realizes he cares for Laura more than he lets on. Yet he still cannot seem to let her go and stay out of her personal affairs, and he too often makes the situation about him because he wants to be in his daughter’s life, making up for the ways that he wronged her in the past. Felix doesn’t own Laura anymore and he needs to learn to let her go, which is a difficult lesson that older parents often ignore.
However, the other relationship that is focused on by Coppola, that of the husband-wife relationship, never struck a chord for me. By the end of the movie, I did not know what she wanted the audience to think about the state of Laura’s relationship with her husband. It ends up being a cute little story, but the message about their marriage is lost along the way and it was difficult for me to get anything meaningful out of it. Coppola is often criticised for not including any Black characters within any of her films, and here she casts Wayans as the first major one in her filmography as a director (I think), yet for the entire movie he is accused of being a cheater. Would it have been too much to ask for Coppola to not make her first Black character a person who cheats on his wife? I honestly wasn’t going to bring it up, but the fact that she includes a police traffic-stop scene yet never addresses the concept of race, especially given the main husband is a Black man, seemed a little short-sighted. She clearly crafted his character with good intentions so it doesn’t ruin the movie, but it bothered me throughout the runtime.
On the Rocks addresses relationships and the ways these complex interactions can influence one’s life, and the observations are interesting and will start conversations. There are many ways to interpret each character’s role in the proceedings, which is why many love Coppola — because she is a skilled director/writer who is good at packing in themes. Where On the Rocks occasionally falls short is the issues that are apparent but that Coppola never addresses, such as the wealth of literally every character in the film. Every scene in the movie takes place in a fancy restaurant or expensive club or beautiful resort, and as the movie went on I was wondering if she would ever realize that she was just filming the rich person’s perspective on life, and it never seemed like she did. Again, this didn’t ruin the message of the movie for me, and it is clear that Coppola is writing from experience having grown up with a rich filmmaker father, but the omission of any commentary on how every scene is dripping in gold seems odd to me.
Nevertheless, Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is a short and charming comment on modern-day relationships, and it was a great movie for me to relax and watch after a long day of working on college essays. While it omitted some important discussions that I feel would have made the movie far more poignant, the discussions that are had are more than enough to have critics debating, which is Coppola’s specialty. Watching Bill Murray and Rashida Jones have great chemistry is enough to carry this movie forward and despite the usual shortcomings of Coppola’s scripts, I found this to be more entertaining than anything since her early 2000s work.
I give On the Rocks a B.