On the Rocks Review: Sofia Coppola & Bill Murray Rivetingly Reunite

Spoilers

Seventeen years ago, screen legend Bill Murray and then filmmaking prodigy Sofia Coppola got together (with Scarlett Johansson) for Lost in Translation — an enormously beloved flick.

With Apple+’s On the Rocks, Murray and Coppola have joined forces yet again (with Rashida Jones this time) to tell the most touching, sometimes hilarious, and often endearing of stories about a father and daughter.

Coppola wrote and directed the New York City-set film that joins a lauded list of daddy-daughter flicks that have touched the soul and time has proven to be universally adored.

From To Kill a Mockingbird to Father of the Bride, the daddy-daughter dynamic has proven to be a powerful emotional tether to audiences for decades.

They say “write what you know,” and given that our auteur is the child of a moviemaking icon in Francis Ford Coppola, bet the house she has a few things to share about being the daughter of a man who is larger than life. Murray’s Felix is that… and then some.

Jones’ Laura is (seemingly) blissfully married to Dean (Marlon Wayans) with two of the most adorable little girls. But Laura’s other half seems preoccupied lately, and little things that are probably nothing are starting to add up to potentially something.

Not helping things is the arrival of her papa, Felix. He thinks the world of Dean, but as someone who has strayed (on Laura’s mom), he knows the signs and it is not looking good for our heroine.

Dean routinely stays at the office late and travels extensively. Yes, he works closely with a young woman, and the answer to the question that always follows that reveal is yes, she’s attractive.

Felix wants to help, and he also wants some nice daddy-daughter time. So, they decide to tail Dean and figure out if his professional life is simply taking off (which it is, incidentally) or if he is “taking it off!”

The key to a film such as this is the chemistry between its leads. It doesn’t matter what role they are playing — father-daughter, friends… or foes.

When two actors spend a decent amount of screen time together, with so many life issues hanging in the balance, the audience must buy into the tandem or the emotive pull washes away like the tide pulling out to sea.

Jones and Murray are utterly electric. Their chemistry is so vibrant, it comes through from the first moment that features the two, and it speaks volumes. It arrives via a phone call. Felix is in Europe, and Laura is just starting to wonder about her physically and mentally absent hubby.

Once these two share cinematic space, their father-child bond is pricelessly palpable. It makes On the Rocks such a joyously entertaining vehicle from start to finish.

Coppola is a fascinating filmmaker, capable of capturing the essence of the human spirit in the most intimate of manners, regardless of her film’s scope.

Whether it was the debut full-length narrative The Virgin Suicides, her breakthrough achievement Lost in Translation, or the “eat the rich” cinematic indictments that were Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring, Coppola has a touch that is uniquely hers. She weaves a web with her camera and her pen that packs a major punch, both visually and cerebrally.

What is she “saying” with her latest?

Appearances can be deceiving. On the Rocks may come across like one of the more simplistic story forays in her film career. But this “is he or isn’t he” daddy-daughter tome touches on a myriad of issues that countless souls will connect to.

Many possess anxieties and much of those seem to stem from paternal or maternal relationship issues.

To see Laura’s fears and concerns percolate while her father is by her side, all while she is playing the role of parent and spouse, is a fascinating study of the modern professional that also never forgets to be wholeheartedly entertaining.

Meanwhile, her professional aspirations as a novelist are caught in this emotional crossfire as she experiences nightmarish writer’s block.

Jones is one of those actresses who possesses the most unique of skill sets–she is fantastic at falling apart. Not that she goes to that sink fully with her latest, but she certainly circles the drain.

What she achieves in On the Rocks is sublime. It’s not that she goes toe-to-toe with Murray and succeeds. This is not a competition. This is a collaboration, and that is what makes what Jones and Murray achieve so special.

The Parks and Rec actress has this richly developed character before we get to bask in her and Murray’s gifts. Once she and Murray team up, their exploits are divine.

Once those credits roll, one of the first thoughts that shot across the brain was that these two need to team up again and soon.

Jones’ talents are vast (she co-wrote Toy Story 4), and for years now, she has been dazzling us with her thespian gifts. Yet, no screenwriter or director has more efficiently utilized her skill set as Coppola does with their collaboration.

It also is largely why On the Rocks is the type of dramatic comedy that can be seen repeatedly.

Murray, what can be said about the icon that hasn’t already been reported?

His On the Rocks playboy is the rare male character, post #MeToo, that doesn’t make us cringe as he flirts with women a third of his age. All we need to respond in those situations is provided by Jones with an eye roll or a flippant comment that usually starts with, “Really, Dad?!”

Yet it is because of who the actor is that his behavior comes across as charming and never crass.

Felix is fine with who he is and has been for decades. So too is his daughter, and that may be the most important takeaway from their pairing. It also helps define this landscape that has Laura wondering if her man is straying. Her father is not unbiased as Murray portrays him.

Even though Dean embodies traits that he and Felix share, when that behavior affects his daughter, well then… that does something extraordinary. Murray inhabits his onscreen alter ego with a singular trait, and that is self-awareness.

It is the rare actor that can pull that off and still have us pulling for him to find happiness, however he defines that. The Scrooged star is that performer.

Coppola had to have written the role with Murray in mind. After all, he tapped her to direct his Netflix Christmas special in 2015. Clearly, the two artists share a shorthand.

Collectively, Coppola, Jones and Murray have taken us on a joyride. It is one that smartly notes that how we view our own personal issues arises through a prism of our own making. But it is one whose foundation was largely laid down by those who came before us.

As embodied by Murray, Felix takes stock and responsibility for his daughter’s insecurities, and as embodied by Jones, she strikes a chord of independence that also never forgets where she comes from and how it defines where she is going.

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