ON THE ROCKS
OUT 2 OCTOBER ★★★★ (APPLE TV+: 23 OCTOBER) CERT 12A / 96 MINS DIRECTOR Sofia Coppola CAST Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans
PLOT Laura (Jones), Dean (Wayans) and their two kids live a picture-perfect life in Manhattan, until she begins to suspect that he’s cheating on her. As her worries mount, Laura turns to her ageing-lothario dad Felix (Murray) to help her get to the bottom of her husband’s behaviour.
IT’S ALMOST TWO years since the announcement that Apple and indie film heroes A24 would partner on original films. The first film they’d produce: Sofia Coppola’s eighth feature, drama comedy On The Rocks, which reunites the director with sometime muse Bill Murray.
Writer Laura (Rashida Jones) is struggling with two small kids, writer’s block and the creeping suspicion that her apparently perfect husband (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her with a colleague. After she confides in her father (Bill Murray) — a feckless, sexist (if oddly charming) dinosaur best suited to life and gender politics of the 1970s — she finds herself creeping around the streets and cocktail bars of New York trying to catch him out.
What is seemingly a portrait of a marriage in crisis, the “on the rocks” of the title, is actually an interesting study of an interior crisis modern women face; one that is far more seismic than whether their husband is jumping in the sack with his hot, long-legged business associate. A crisis of who we become once we’ve traded the title of daughter for one of wife or mother or both. Of what becomes of our creative impulses and drive. Of our sense of identity.
Rubbing up against this very contemporary concern is Murray’s Felix. A man from another age, who exists in a New York seemingly of a different era. Clubs and and restaurants with plush leather seating, maître d’s who know your name and preferred liquor.
Though Coppola’s dialogue can be spritely, the clashes that take place between father and daughter, across the generational divide, aren’t always subtle, or even particularly interesting. He’s of the generation who believe women are owned by men — especially by the men who love them (the film opens with a piece of narration from when Laura’s clearly a child. “And remember,” says her father. “Don’t give your heart to any boy. You’re mine until you get married. And then you’re still mine”). And the seeds of marital strife don’t always avoid cliché (Dean buys Laura a kitchen appliance for her birthday. Danger!).
But there’s a quiet, often intoxicating charm to the rhythms of this film. From the comfortable routines of family life — Laura in a Beastie Boys T-shirt overseeing teeth-cleaning and hairbrushing; the hurried, happy walk to school — to the ebb and flow of unease about his fidelity. And how this questioning of the man who Laura’s long been convinced is nothing like her philandering father only seeks to widens the cracks that have long existed between her and Felix.
On The Rocks is also a portrait of New York at its finest — the streets humming with musicality and shimmering in the frame, as Murray releases the throttle on his classic car. In truth, it’s arguably a New York that doesn’t exist anymore, and as such there’s something almost melancholic about the city that Coppola renders with such tenderness and affection.
Murray is infuriatingly, but resolutely endearing, his relationship with Jones credible and full of regret and heart. And Jones is compelling as a woman trying to remember if who she was is still who she is. TERRI WHITE
Lighter and slighter than we may expect from Coppola, On The Rocks is an eminently charming, gorgeous portrait of a daughter, wife and mother finding her way back to herself via the streets of New York City.
Was that really Scarlett Johansson at the catering van?