A lot of Sofia Coppola’s new film “On the Rocks” (2020) is, as its name suggests, Rashida Jones and Bill Murray talking over drinks in classy, dimly lit New York establishments. And while they’re numerous, these scenes were some of the most engaging for the same reason that the film itself is engaging — it allows for space to breathe. “On The Rocks” is deeply introspective without being preachy, slow without feeling tiresome and unconventional without feeling too gimmicky. Its concept may not be revolutionary, but “On The Rocks” delivers an insightful, oftentimes quite funny look into the ruts of adulthood, and the sometimes extreme lengths we find ourselves going to escape them.
“On The Rocks” follows writer and young mom Laura Keane (Jones), whose husband’s (Marlon Wayans) suspicious behavior leads her to think he may be having an affair. In swoops her father, a classy, worldly art dealer named Felix (Murray), who convinces her to start tailing him in a New York spy escapade filled with only the essentials — which of course, for Felix, includes on-the-go caviar and a classic Alfa Romeo convertible. Laura finds herself pulled into her father’s complex, chaotic world as she finds more and more evidence to speak to her husband’s disloyalty.
Murray absolutely shines as Felix. He’s the dad we all kind of wished we had in another life — sophisticated, well traveled, knows everyone in the city, endlessly and at times alarmingly confident and can talk his way out of anything. He’s the comedic center of the film until, of course, we realize that that sort of personality can come with a price. Murray expertly captures the paradoxes of Felix’s character. He and Laura seem to have a genuine father-daughter connection, only interrupted every time he flirts with women, which happens all the time. He’s crazy about Laura’s daughters, except that his presence throws a wrench into Laura’s already-chaotic life. He’ll drink midday, but when he does he’ll order a cocktail for Laura, too. And, of course, he pulls Laura into indulging her suspicions of her husband as both a supportive father wanting what’s best for her as well as a playboy caught up in the intrigue of an affair, rendering him a stylish yet morally complex espionage buddy for the stuck-in-her-ways Laura.
Jones’ Laura is quiet, settled down and struggling to write because of the constant stresses of her children (or so she claims — it appears that her kids aren’t actually the problem behind her inability to write, as evidenced by one sequence where she vacantly reshuffles and rearranges the paraphernalia at her desk in front of the empty screen). Jones’ performance is subtle and thoughtful, save for one outburst with wonderful writing hampered by Jones’s delivery which breaksher slow-and-steady reconciliation with her suspicions and her relationship with her father. But as a young mom and a reluctant partner to Felix, Jones generally performs wonderful introspection and confusion about her life’s path.
Coppola’s visual style is, like the film’s tone, muted, dark and earthy — very distinctly A24 — rejecting overcutting so as to favor long, thoughtful scenes that let her characters marinate on screen. However, Coppola intersperses these elements with a few faster paced and genuinely stressful sequences depicting the chaos of motherhood that seemingly never slows down, as shown hilariously when Laura finally gets to lie down on her bed, only to have a Roomba burst into the room and start aggressively bumping into what feels like every obstacle. It’s a struggle made worse by her husband’s absence, but it’s only once the film slows down to ruminate that Laura considers the state of her relationship more fully.
“On The Rocks” isn’t trying anything particularly new or mind-blowing as a film. However, it’s somehow both a stylish and understated exploration of parenthood, marriage and fidelity that, more than anything, gives Bill Murray the chance to show off his skills yet again.