by Jack Miller ’21
With her newest film, “On The Rocks,” director Sofia Coppola returns to the dreamy slice-of-life style which defined her earlier works to tell the story of Laura (Rashida Jones), a middle-aged New York mother who begins to have doubts about the faithfulness of her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans). To ease her mind, she enlists the help of her larger-than-life father, Felix (Bill Murray), who drags her along a series of misadventures through the city to prove her husband’s unworthiness.
Fans of “Lost In Translation,” Coppola’s much-applauded 2003 sophomore work, will find themselves at home in the tantalizing softness of “On The Rocks.” Coppola grounds the Manhattan odyssey in reality, keeping the stakes low and the mood light throughout. Conflict runs thin, with the film instead focusing on studying its characters and evoking its pleasant atmosphere. In the hands of another filmmaker, this lack of focus might make the film feel weightless—but the film’s inspired direction turns it into an old-fashioned joy. Phillip Le Sourd’s stunning photography paints the Manhattan night with a gorgeous warmth, whispering a silent beauty when coupled with the film’s jazzy soundtrack. Most of the film resides within cozy, dim-lit clubs, lived-in apartments, and under moody streetlights, making for an authentic and consistently compelling ambiance. Coppola balances sequences of melancholy that poke at the heartstrings with those of cheery humor, which provide some of the film’s most exciting moments.
What little story there is serves less for thrills and more as a means for Coppola to dissect Laura’s relationship with Felix, which is no doubt inspired by Coppola’s relationship with her own hotshot father, the great director Francis Ford Coppola. Laura is a down-to-earth, relatable mom whose marital troubles cause her to begin to feel lost in the world. Felix, on the other hand, is a deeply flawed parent; he’s selfish, irresponsible, and, ironically, he’s been unfaithful all his life. Despite his numerous shortcomings, however, he’s drawn in an empathetic and compassionate light. Murray manages to be as funny as one has come to expect while also showing enough restraint to turn Felix into a believable and humanized figure. It’s the dynamic between father and daughter that gives the film its heart—Felix’s misguided (and often misogynistic) ramblings play off of Laura’s straight-edge values to great comedic effect, while also providing wonderful development for both characters.
It may not be the powerhouse that some have come to expect from Sofia Coppola, but “On The Rocks” is undoubtedly worth a watch. Coppola’s direction brings humanity to a story that otherwise might have felt lifeless, and the end product is something beautiful.