Sofia Coppola’s ‘On the Rocks’ Explores Complicated Family Dynamics

Forrest Hartman

 

At a Glance:

On the Rocks

2½ stars

Starring: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans

Director: Sofia Coppola

Available on: Apple TV+

 

Writer-director Sofia Coppola isn’t for everyone. She is an obvious talent buttressed by an elegant, easygoing style that results in moments ranging from sublime to dull. Alas, it’s her tendency to linger too long on simple notions that will leave some viewers cold.

 

On the Rocks is reminiscent of her 2003 directorial smash, Lost in Translation. That film told the story of an aging movie star – played by Bill Murray – facing a midlife crisis. For On the Rocks, Murray is back, but this time as a more-self-assured older man who volunteers to help his daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones), through a marital crisis.

 

Murray plays Felix, a charming senior who still has a way with the ladies. We learn from Laura that he wasn’t a great dad. He was a womanizer even as a family man, something he unapologetically explains as part of the male DNA. Laura, being a kind soul, has maintained a loving relationship with her father nonetheless, and she turns to him when she begins to suspect her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is having an affair.

 

 

Murray, of course, thinks this is a foregone conclusion because Marlon is a man. This attitude stokes Laura’s concerns, but she also finds comfort in the obvious love that her father has for her. Womanizer or no, Murray does care for his daughter and demonstrates a willingness to go to great lengths to protect her.

 

Although Laura’s romantic crisis serves as the film’s dramatic arc, the real meat of the issue is in watching father and daughter interact. This is a film about men and women and relationships. On the one hand, we have Laura and Dean, who seem like an ideal couple, apart from the nagging hints that Dean could be fooling around. On the other hand, we have Laura’s relationship with Murray, a man who hurt her throughout childhood despite the assumption he was there as her guide. That these men seem both different and alike is intentional, and viewers are meant to think about the way role models and past experience shape our world view.

 

 

The trouble with On the Rocks, assuming one has a problem, is that Coppola takes so much time telling such a simplistic tale. For those who enjoy low-key, persistent examinations of the human condition, this may not be criticism at all. Indeed, Coppola gets credit for the simplicity and authenticity of her work.

 

Jones and Murray are fantastic, and On the Rocks has plenty to unpack for those willing to make the effort. The question is whether you’ll find the presentation compelling enough to expend that energy.

 

Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a longtime entertainment journalist who teaches in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at California State University, Chico.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

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