Nearly two decades since Lost in Translation shoved Sofia Coppola into the sunlight and out of her namesake’s shadow, the expert filmmaker has launched some of the most memorable films in contemporary cinema. She explored the Hollywood affluenza epidemic in The Bling Ring, subverted European history in Marie Antoinette, and explored female empowerment through the lens of the Civil War in The Beguiled. Coppola’s knack for quiet realism, organic storytelling and layered dialogue remain standout qualities in film today.
Three years later comes Coppola’s latest project, On the Rocks.
Coming in 2020 as the launchpad for A24’s partnership with Apple TV+, Coppola’s second film with Bill Murray since their now iconic collaboration in 2003 centers on Laura Keane (Rashida Jones), a writer and mother to two daughters living in Manhattan. When Laura suspects her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), a successful tech entrepreneur, of cheating on her, she reluctantly enlists the help of her flawed father Felix (Bill Murray).
What unfolds is a mostly conventional narrative as it follows the two trailing Dean for the bulk of the film. The true brilliance lays in Laura and Felix’s relationship. Rather than exposing Dean for infidelity, the father daughter duo slowly unpack the baggage of Laura’s storied childhood. Traumas, regrets, and grievances are brought to light in a realistic way. Coppola delicately unpacks this, subverting the surface story for something bigger and more impactful.
The film is good by standard means. Jones and Murray play a convincing unit, both approaching their roles with wisdom and empathy. Murray’s ignorant attempt to relate to her and Jones’ suppression of grudges and attempt at unconditional love are the surface for a deeply complicated dynamic that unravels over the course of the film.
In comparison to the rest of the Coppola pantheon, On the Rocks is slight. Not revolutionary by any means, it’s instead a fairly interesting character study of a father daughter relationship that has been bruised and broken gradually over time with little closure until the point at the film during which viewers meet and uncover their dynamic. Like in her film Somewhere, the dynamic was likely inspired in part by Coppola’s own life. It often feels personal and metaphoric to her own upbringing, first as an actress on her father’s seminal Godfather trilogy and later a fully realized auteur herself.
While the film passes by smoothly, it is to be said that Coppola intended to approach the story this way. The grays and repetitive nature reflect Laura’s routine and state of mind, supporting her perspective and character development throughout the story. Murray’s subtle wit not only brightens up the story, but the point of view of the entire film. He continues to prove his worth as an actor worth keeping tabs on.
On the Rocks may not be remembered or hailed as one of Coppola’s strongest works, but it has enough profundity to warrant a watch or two. In nailing the characters in this sadly familiar tale, Coppola continues to benefit from her comfort zone. Her writing remains rich with subtext and believability, her direction strong, and her personal flair present.
On the Rock is now streaming on Apple TV+.