On the Rocks: A New York State of Mind
Since its festival premiere, I’ve seen On the Rocks compared not infrequently to the films of Woody Allen. On a surface level, sure: wealthy New Yorkers, anxieties about marriage and relationships, mildly madcap hijinks, all fairly standard Allen elements. But speaking as someone who hasn’t ever been the biggest fan of the films of either On the Rocks director Sofia Coppola or Allen, Coppola’s latest — while lighter and more accessible than some of her previous works — drives home the notion that she has a much cannier understanding of character than someone like Allen. Yes, it’s still easy to lob criticisms of socio-economic disconnect her way, but in the end she finds a core of something recognizable and relatable — even when a critical plot machination involves a gift (or lack thereof) from Cartier.
Much of the buzz surrounding On the Rocks has centered around Coppola’s feature film reunion with Bill Murray following Lost in Translation, her breakout, Oscar-winning sophomore effort. And the buzz is deserved — Coppola brings out the best in late-career Murray, writing him a delightful cad to embody in the sort of way that maybe only Murray can. His Felix is the epitome of entitlement: a rich, white, art-dealing New Yorker with no filter or shame when it comes to his frequent womanizing. Credit goes to Coppola and Murray for crafting a character who we’re both charmed by and at times empathize with, despite being close to a caricature of a creepy septuagenarian.
But even more so than Murray, On the Rocks belongs to star Rashida Jones as his daughter Laura. Jones, who at this point is likely still best known for her television work on Parks and Recreation and the like, has here perhaps her meatiest role to date, playing a nearing-40 writer and stay-at-home mom suffering a mid-life crisis that’s only exacerbated by the nagging inkling that her husband (Marlon Wayans) may be having an affair with his assistant. Despite her complicated relationship with her father, she confides in him about her fears, leading to a harebrained set of schemes to discover whether she is in fact the victim of infidelity. Jones excels at conveying interniality with her face and body language, her chemistry with Murray is pleasingly authentic, and — some last act clunkiness aside — Coppola’s writing brings genuine nuance to what could be a fairly straightforward portrayal of a father and daughter’s attempts to reimagine their relationship.
Even though On the Rocks fizzles a bit near the end, Coppola swerves away from the melancholy of Lost in Translation and towards a note of uplifting optimism that hits home without being cloying. You hope for the best for Felix and Laura because you know that their problems — minor though they may be in the grand scheme of things — are ultimately rooted in the human need for connection and, thus, are universal.