Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks

On Film / The Daily — Oct 1, 2020
Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (2020)

On the cusp of forty and staring down a deadline for delivery of a book she can’t seem to write, Laura (Rashida Jones), the mother of two lively young girls, has begun to suspect that her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is cheating on her. In On the Rocks, director Sofia Coppola “utilizes the comic-melancholic tone that she perfected in Somewhere,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant. “A shot of Laura lying on her bed, as one of those little robot vacuums buzzes about in hapless circles, instantly evokes Laura’s ennui.” Ultimately, though, On the Rocks “has a bounce—a swing and sense of hopefulness—that’s new to Coppola’s work.”

Laura turns to her father, Felix, a globe-trotting art dealer and womanizing charmer played, of course, by Bill Murray. Felix would know from infidelity. Years ago, he left Laura and her mother for a younger woman, and he seems to relish the opportunity to prove to his daughter that Dean, like any other man, would, too. Tailing Dean like screwball detectives will also give them a shot at making up for lost time together. Murray’s performance is “familiar,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “but steeped in the bittersweet recognition that Laura is the love of Felix’s life—that he’d rather them shipwreck together than sail apart on their own.”

Felix’s conversations with Laura “overwhelmingly feel like tastefully appointed shop windows for Murray’s schtick,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, and in the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey suggests that some audiences “may find Felix marginally less charming than the film does. It’s down to the actor’s asides, which have the air of ad-libs even if they’re not, to save the day. Without those, we might be quicker to notice that the character is little more than white male privilege in a polka dot scarf.” But at the A.V. Club, A. A. Dowd calls Murray’s performance “an irresistible star turn, loose and funny and comfortable, that leans on Murray’s still potent charisma and his present reputation as a carefree celebrity fuck-around, with no loftier aim than amusing himself.”

On the Rocks “isn’t a great movie,” writes Vulture’s Alison Willmore, “but it’s one overflowing with feelings that it tries to squash into something tidier. Among them are fear of forever being scarred by a father who up and left, anger at how easily he still indulges his impulses while she’s trapped behaving sensibly, and a broader resentment at how aging can differ for men and women. If it’s difficult to reconcile those raw-edged emotions with the pat conclusion On the Rocks arrives at, it’s because the film never really manages to do that either.”


Noting in the Los Angeles Times that Coppola shot On the Rocks in New York last summer, Justin Chang points out that “the sights and sounds of COVID-free nightlife—the background music, the barroom chatter, the clink of plates and silverware, the enveloping shadows of Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography—are likely to induce an exquisite sense of nostalgia . . . Seen in the harsh glare of the present, the characters’ problems—generational differences, marital anxieties, creative inertia—might seem both derivative and almost desirably quaint, though in a way that produces more sympathy than scorn.” And for Scout Tafoya at RogerEbert.com, On the Rocks is “the kind of doodle only a truly skilled director could produce.”

Following last week’s premiere in New York, On the Rocks is opening in theaters this weekend. Anyone reluctant to venture into a theater right now won’t have to wait long, though, as Apple TV+ will begin streaming the film on October 23.

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