Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray Team Up Again for the Boozy 'On the Rocks'
The movie, also starring Rashida Jones, is in theaters now and hits Apple TV+ on October 23.
I didn't realize how much I missed leather booths before watching Sofia Coppola's new movie On the Rocks. That feeling of sliding into a banquette in a darkened bar is so palpable watching the film—which premiered at the (mostly digital) New York Film Festival, is now playing in various movie theaters, and hits Apple TV+ on October 23—that I could almost conjure the smell of such a place from my couch. What does it smell like? Something like I'd imagine Bill Murray smells like: a hint of mustiness, a touch of gin, a whiff of cologne.
Murray, Coppola's collaborator on Lost in Translation and the Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas, is the dominant force in this Apple and A24 production even though it takes a bit for him to physically show up in the narrative. Through him, and the character he embodies, Coppola is able to conjure a glamorous version of New York that's even more alluring in these quarantine days.
On screen, Murray plays Felix, the dashing art dealer father to Rashida Jones' writer Laura, who is actually the protagonist. Laura's own life is its own version of a Manhattan ideal. She lives in a gorgeous large loft in Soho with a "Bernie 2016" sticker on the door alongside her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and two children, who she takes to school wearing her Strand tote bag. There, she is barraged by the problems of Jenny Slate's very funny Vanessa, a woman in a Radarte shirt who never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. Laura has sold a book, but has writer's block, brought on by the sneaking suspicion that Dean, who is constantly away doing business for some ill-defined start-up, is having an affair.
Faced with the prospect that Dean is unfaithful, Laura mentions it to Felix, a gadfly who knows something about infidelity, having cheated on her mom. He whisks her away to a private club, and indulges all her paranoia. What follows is essentially a father-daughter hangout movie, wherein Laura and Felix zip around the city investigating Dean's behavior. They dine at the 21 Club for her birthday, and eat caviar in Felix's red vintage convertible as they wait for Dean to emerge from the Soho House. Defeated after one of their adventures, they sip martinis at Bemelmans Bar, the legendary haunt where the art of Madeline illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans adorns the walls.
Coppola is probably best known for, and sometimes derided for, her mastery of aesthetic, whether that be the ethereal, hazy midwestern 1970s of The Virgin Suicides or the sleek early aughts Los Angeles of Paris Hilton in The Bling Ring. On the Rocks captures the rarefied New York that Felix swims in and Laura has always known. It's an environment where going to a cocktail party at a mansion to see a Cy Twombly is just a stop on the way to some bigger adventure.
As a director, Coppola clearly has love for these spaces, as old fashioned and elite as they may be, just as she has love for Felix, who by no means fits 2020 standards of political correctness. He's an unabashed flirt, who can use his charms to get out of anything, even a traffic stop. Dean and his vague tech work is intentionally hard for Laura and Felix to parse. It's newfangled and essentially gibberish as he spits out words like "engagement" and "followers."
On the Rocks is a movie both about class and somewhat oblivious to class. If you're turned off by the blithe way Felix occupies this upper echelon, you will be turned off by the movie. But the world is also intoxicating, and surprisingly intimate. Indeed, it's easy to read a personal narrative into this story in a way that you can't with many of Coppola's films. After all, it's about an accomplished woman assessing her relationship to her alluring, successful father who dominates every room he enters. It's no use trying glean too much from that about the Coppola family dynamics -- it's not like Murray is playing Francis Ford Coppola -- but the context explains why the relationship between Felix and Laura feels so specific. They often feel less like parent and child than old friends, the elder of whom is perpetually hard to reach. And while Jones' performance is more muted, Murray is, well, Murray-esque as Felix. He's a total cad, but you love him anyway.
There are bits and pieces of On the Rocks that are under-baked, especially when it gets around to the plotty details of just what Dean is doing. But the experience of roaming around New York's lovely little craggy corners with Felix and Laura is just so pleasant it's hard to be that perturbed that the actual marriage at stake is a little hollow. Nostalgia is a force in On the Rocks, and not just because it would be impossible to enjoy a cold, olive-freckled martini inside a bar right now without a wave of virus-related anxiety. Felix is a nostalgic entity and even though you know he's toxic, it's impossible not to be seduced, just a little.
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