Sofia Coppola’s career has always had a sense of melancholy. Longing stares, rainy days, and imprisonment in an isolated location: these are the trademarks of her filmography. Her peak, Lost in Translation, is the biggest point of comparison for her newest feature On the Rocks (in select theaters October 2nd for those who wish to return to cinemas, and on Apple TV+ starting on October 23rd). Bill Murray and Coppola were a winning pair in 2003, and their reunion promises magical results, like the finest combination of chardonnay and camembert. This time around, the results are more muted than one might expect.
Murray’s playing Felix, a retired legendary art dealer living in New York City. He drives an old red Alfa Romeo like a madman around Manhattan, wines and dines almost every night, and will never miss an opportunity to flirt with a waitress. His rockstar lifestyle causes chaos daily on the island, and it’s caused turmoil in his family as well. Murray’s younger co-star is now a daughter, not a romantic love interest. His daughter Laura (Rashida Jones) is a writer struggling to put words to paper while taking care of her two children and wondering what her husband Dean (a delightfully subtle Marlon Wayans) is up to while away at work. The film lures in the viewer with Felix and his impulsive charms, but Laura is the heart of this story.
Soon, after one too many business trips and odd work hours on Dean’s end, Laura comes to fear the worst: her husband is having an affair. When this new wretched element enters the ennui-filled cocktail mix of her life, her fear spikes and Felix swoops in with a solution: he and Laura will follow Dean everywhere he goes to make sure he’s not having an affair. The pair swifty end up in Felix’s vintage Alfa Romeo as they hop from place to place across Manhattan, hitting bars and restaurants and everywhere in between. As they attempt to suss out the situation with Dean, their time together forces Laura to confront her own feelings about Felix—the father who left her and her mother behind.
As Laura and Felix spend quality time together and reflect on his past mistakes that led to him abandoning her and her mother, it’s hard not to think about whether or not Sofia’s own relationship with her father, the iconic Francis Ford Coppola, has seeped into the film. Laura is quietly distraught by the fact that she goes through existence in the shadow of her father. Coppola frames her alone in many a space, letting her sadness creep into the heart of the viewer. It’s deceptively simple but thematically rich and complex, as Coppola plunges into her own life experiences as the daughter of a widely-respected king of American cinema whom she knows as a father. While Murray’s delightfully madcap energy bounces off of Jones’ sturdy sincerity, the film’s frank emotional honesty comes through. There’s a somber atmosphere to the otherwise light-hearted proceedings. Make no mistake: this might be Coppola’s most fluffy and light film yet, but the bittersweet emotions are still there.
The bittersweetness also carries over into its lovely, nostalgic depiction of a pre-pandemic New York City. Sofia creates a magical version of Manhattan that mashes several decades and eras together, eliciting melancholy in the viewer from the mere view of a maskless person drinking a cocktail at a bar. Fifth Avenue and hotels merge to create a surprisingly potent nostalgia for the far off time of 2019, when things seemed downright idyllic compared to the current day. By functioning as both a love letter to the Big Apple and a reflection on the turbulent emotions that children can feel towards parents, Coppola crafts one hell of a cinematic truffle. It’s like the richest, sweetest chocolate in the world: an indulgence. And while it is ultimately nothing more than a truffle, it’s worth taking the time to unwrap it.
21, born and raised in Boston. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.