With On the Rocks, Sofia Coppola reconfigures her pet themes into a welcomingly settled film that plays a lot like an NYC-set Somewhere.
“It must be very nice to be you.” That’s what Laura (Rashida Jones) says to her gadfly dad Felix (Bill Murray) late in Sofia Coppola’s latest tonic. He’s just sweet-talked his way out of a parking ticket for what’s probably the umpteenth time, and she’s a bit put out by his deployment of privilege. Wait, let’s start at the beginning. On the Rocks starts with Laura’s marriage to Dean (Marlon Wayans), and it’s a quintessential dreamy Sofia Coppola party scene, luxuriantly stylish and full of possibility. Cut to (literally) some years later, and here’s Laura picking up toys around a couple of kids, while her husband is constantly away on business.
She’s a successful writer, he’s some sort of world-traveling business guy. The money seems to be good; this family seems to enjoy all the trappings of affluence and privilege, but Laura’s unsatisfied. Mainly due to her suspicions that rarely-home Dean is stepping out on her with an assistant. So she unloads her frustrations on Felix, an extremely well-connected art dealer who seems to have never really fully matured into his old age. He still drives a flashy red vintage convertible, chases tail, flirts with waitresses, and spends lavishly. His life is full of accoutrement. Unsurprisingly Felix only encourages Laura’s suspicions, partly because he’s itching to take his girl on a little screwball adventure, but mostly because he’s the kind of sexist who insists that men are hardwired to cheat.
Coppola’s movies are frequently sort of hermetic dreams, but On the Rocks feels like the work of someone trying to understand all the ways that their bubble has been pierced by the simple daily work of life. You can look at it as a more settled-down version of the comeuppance delivered at the end of Marie Antoinette or The Bling Ring. And certainly the dissatisfied spouse on a semi-spiritual trip through the big city with a dry-witted gentleman bandit can’t help but recall Lost in Translation. But the closest comparison is really Somewhere. In contrast to that film’s decadent Los Angeles, Chateau Marmont setting, the New York City of On the Rocks is one of quiet nostalgia and warm comfort, though fittingly both films are stories of loyal (possibly to a fault) daughters contending with part-time dads. Felix’s talk of what men and women want echoes the young girl in Somewhere coming to grips with what she’s learning about what men expect of her and where she’s learning those expectations. Laura’s vague dissatisfaction with her marriage (but not just her marriage) is the same existential angst of the Hollywood star who just wants to dip out.
Coppola reconfigures all of these pet themes — and her open admission of the comfort of her privilege, here in the obvious semi-autobiography brought by Jones (daughter of Quincy) and Murray (totally playing into his persona as a superstar self-absorbed goof) — into a sort of sedate screwball comedy of errors. Missed opportunities and mistaken assumptions abound, as you’d expect, but the aim isn’t a raucous pace or a belly laugh. The jokes here are played for sympathy rather than irony, and who better to sympathize with these people than this cast and director? In the end, they’re all just more settled now. A little older, hopefully smarter, and probably not as cool as we used to be (well, except Murray). So when Laura side-eyes Felix’s patented traffic-cop schmoozing, of course he replies “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
You can currently stream Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks on Apple TV+.