Sofia Coppola’s minimalistic approach to filmmaking captures each scene’s emotional nuances beautifully that there is no need for distracting bombastic moments or grand gestures. She allows characters to thrive and live out her experiences through her words and camerawork. And when all of that is against the backdrop of pleasing cinematic aesthetics and carefully selected music, it becomes magical. And it becomes even more delightful when Bill Murray is in the picture. It all becomes clear in Coppola’s latest film, ‘On the Rocks,’ which is best described as a lighthearted father-daughter comedy that is also a whimsy adventure through New York City nightlife.
‘On the Rocks’ stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a wife, and writer living in the heart of New York City. While her husband’s (Marlon Waynes) career is skyrocketing, Laura finds herself struggling to write new content. She is suffering from writer’s block, which is leaving her feeling stifled and struggling to get more out of life. Though she may have a picture-perfect family, she begins to suspect that her husband is cheating on her. With no one else to turn to for advice, she calls her father, Felix (Bill Murray), a well-traveled centric and eternally cheerful man. Together, they journey through the busy city, tailing Laura’s husband, hoping to catch the man in the act, all the while guzzling top-shelf alcohol and experiencing life in a whole new way.
The mere thought of a significant other engaging in infidelity would be more than enough to crush a marriage and destroy lives. Though it is a grave matter, injecting some eccentricities and mischievous warm can creates for more lighthearted moments that may dull the pain of the truth. It certainly isn’t a healthy way to approach a real-life situation. But it does make the quixotic journey a lot more fun.
Though Laura is hesitant to accept her father’s offer because of his history of infidelity, she reluctantly joins him. As they ride through the streets of New York in their not-so-subtle classic red convertible, we learn a lot about their relationship, how she has still accepted him as her father despite those past indiscretions, all the while as they eat and drink expensive food. An during their stakeouts, So, the two converse about parenthood, sex, and the relationship between men and women.
That may sound boring, but it becomes something else when Felix whisks Laura on a whimsical adventure through New York City. It’s hard to resist Felix’s charms. But his playboy lifestyle and happy-go-lucky is magnetic that you can’t help but go on this adventure. Sure, he may not be the average dad, but that personality is infectious. It’s fun to see him woo bartenders, smooth talk his way out of an erratic driving ticket, or watch his eyes light up when a serving of ice cream comes to the table. But is all surface-level material when you realize it is an attempt to hide the fact that he is sad. Because that wealthy lifestyle grants him the privilege to live a materialistic fairy tale the time he has lost with his family.
So, he uses Laura’s questioning of her husband’s possible infidelity to go on this adventure, all the while dispensing his eccentric wisdom upon her one moment and then treating her like a kid the next. In a way, he believes that this will help make up for the lost time. But the reality is, it only adds to Laura’s frustrations. But these nightly quests does allow her to be with him.
On the flip side, we also get to peer into Laura’s daily life, which consists of taking care of her two kids, finding the inspiration to write, and being by her husband’s side during business parties. Being a housewife does not suit her. Her husband also sees that and tries to be as supportive as possible. But between dropping off the kids at school and listening to gossiping moms, Laura’s trips with her father offers an escape for her in more ways than one. And Jones does a great job matching Murray’s pacing beat for beat.
Though these are adventures that very few can afford, many can relate to Felix and Laura’s flaws and insecurities. That connection is immediately established thanks in no small part to Murray and Jones’s performances. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that the film draws from Coppola’s relationship with her father, her experiences as a mother, and life as a New Yorker.
The lingering shots of conversations superficial draw you in such a way that makes you feel as though you are a part of the conversation, while the interiors of high-end restaurants and the exteriors of New York City, along with carefully selected tracks of Chet Baker and add to the layers. And cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd makes New York City shine beautifully. At the same time, the carefully selected tracks from Michael Nyman’s In Re Don Giovanni and Chet Baker songs add even more depth.
‘On the Rocks’ is a lighthearted jazzy exploration of the father and daughter relationship. Its simplicity gives the kind of room needed for Jones and Murray’s performances to shine. Though it only runs at a mere 98 minutes, Coppola provides us with the kind of story you hope will never end.
On The Rocks premieres on Apple TV+ October 23, 2020.