Sofia Coppola was one of the most celebrated directors around the turn of the century, captivating cinemagoers with the tragic mystery of The Virgin Suicides (1999), the doomed romance of Lost in Translation (2003) and the shimmery artifice of Marie Antoinette (2006). The director has floundered a bit in the past 15 years, turning in both shallow films and an odd remake. By partnering again with Translation star Bill Murray in new film On the Rocks, Coppola appears eager to get back to the heyday of her early work.

The movie begins at a lavish wedding. A bride and groom sneak off to canoodle in a swimming pool. It is a moment of possibility, the future extending out before the pair. Coppola then flashes forward many years. To the comedown. To the reality where that poolside tryst is nothing but a fond memory lost in the miasma of childrearing and the daily grind. We meet Laura (Rashida Jones), a writer who lives in a posh apartment in Manhattan. Her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is constantly traveling for business. Laura is left home alone often with their two young daughters. Despite Laura’s dissatisfaction and a case of writer’s block, her life looks like it could be featured in a J.Crew catalog. Still, something is wrong. Much like Charlotte in Lost in Translation, Laura is looking for a way out.

Thank god it’s not another May-December romance with Bill Murray. Instead, Laura begins to suspect that Dean is having an affair with a younger co-worker. Enter Felix (Murray), Laura’s father who knows a thing or two about philandering. Incredibly rich and shockingly extroverted, Felix hides his insecurities in luxury and flirtation. He embarrasses Laura during lunch by hitting on a younger waitress. But when Felix catches wind of Dean’s possible infidelity, he takes it upon himself to investigate the matter in a mea culpa of sorts. It is easily Murray’s breeziest and most complex role in ages, a far cry from the constipated Bob of Translation in many ways, but a man just as hopelessly lost.

On the Rocks also doesn’t have the emotional heft of Coppola’s earlier films, playing more like an episode of “Sex in the City.” It suffers from the issues that plague Woody Allen films, in many ways. While Coppola presents a New York City that’s racially diverse (unlike Allen’s whitewashed fantasia), there is no socioeconomic diversity. On the Rocks takes place in the apartments of the elite, in the passenger seat of convertible sportscars, in luxury hotel suites and swanky resorts in Mexico. For people struggling today, Laura’s problems may not mean much. But On the Rocks is charming enough to skate by in many respects.

Coppola seems to have moved on from auteur to merely director. The ennui is still there, but the mystery is gone. And while Bob is a sad loser with a hidden inner magic, Felix seems magical, but inside is a lonely man past his prime. Still, there are no whispered messages when On the Rocks ends. Instead, Coppola brings it to a close in a way that is oddly formulaic. On the Rocks is charming and features great performances by Murray and Jones, but it feels little more than confection.

ON THE ROCKS will be available on Apple TV+ starting Friday, October 23. ON THE ROCKS is an Apple Original Films and A24 Release.

Thank god it’s not another May-December romance with Bill Murray.
70 %
A charming confection
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