Sofia Coppola, the daughter of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” director Francis Ford Coppola, years ago established herself as a talented filmmaker in her own right, thanks to acclaimed efforts including “The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation” and “The Beguiled.”
By her standards a lightweight affair, the latest from the writer-director, “On the Rocks,” seems to channel another filmmaker of her father’s generation: Woody Allen.
Although it’s not quite as funny or as clever as Allen’s finest films, the romantic comedy of sorts has that love letter-to-New York City feel that so many of his movies have possessed, and it packs plenty of wit.
Already in the midst of a limited theatrical run and landing on streaming platform Apple TV+ this week, “On the Rocks” benefits greatly from the presence of another man roughly the age of Allen and the elder Coppola: Bill Murray.
Murray was excellent opposite Scarlett Johansson in the aforementioned “Lost in Translation,” and his performance is the strongest aspect of this second collaboration with Coppola.
Murray portrays ever-charming aging playboy Felix, whose daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones), begins to suspect her husband is being unfaithful. Constantly busy and traveling for the buzz-generating company he is helping to launch, Dean (Marlon Wayans, “Scary Movie”), is beginning to show signs of being a cheater.
Felix — no stranger to infidelity and long divorced — is convinced from the jump that Dean has wronged his daughter, although he probably shouldn’t be expected to be an impartial juror. (The movie begins with Murray’s voice over a black screen, Felix telling a young Laura, “And remember, don’t give your heart to any boys. You are mine until you get married. Then you’re still mine.”)
Laura barely has a say in the matter as her affluent, well-connected father begins to snoop, talking to a concierge he knows at a hotel where Dean recently stayed and has his credit card transactions pulled. Still, Laura sees how Dean’s beautiful coworker Fiona (Jessica Henwick) casually, familiarly touches him, and Laura, at home with their two young daughters, worries she’s “just the buzzkill waiting to schedule things.”
Among other actions, Felix convinces her to go on a stakeout with him to spy on Dean outside a business dinner, attended by Fiona and others. The two of them tooling around in Felix’s small-but-loud vintage car is a treat.
Of course, given the time we spend with Laura and Felix together, “On the Rocks” is more about their relationship than that of Laura and Dean. And in crafting this “father-daughter detective lark,” as the movie’s production notes call it, Coppola says she was thinking a lot about her dad and his generation, the “martini generation.”
On the one hand, Laura is bemused by her dad, who correctly identifies a waitress as a ballet dancer and lightly flirts with her.
“Can you ever just act normal around any woman?” she asks.
Plus, he’s great with his granddaughters — even if he lets them watch a bit of “Breaking Bad” and puts some old-fashioned ideas in their heads, such as the need to keep their hair long because that’s what boys like — and thinks the world of his daughter.
“Laura, come on,” he says during a discussion about Dean’s recent emotional distance. “He should be worshipping the ground you walk on.”
On the other hand, he seems to be enjoying this detective work — this little adventure of theirs — too much. And then there’s the fact that he’s so comfortable accusing Dean of being unfaithful years after cheating on Laura’s mother.
While she gives us no moment akin to that wonderful scene near the end of “Lost in Translation” between Murray’s character and the woman played by Johansson — where we, the audience, aren’t privy to their exchange — Coppola continues to excel with a less-is-more approach to dialogue.
As for the central mystery as to whether Dean is cheating, Coppola tips her hand a bit, but, again, that isn’t really what “On the Rocks” is about.
For us, it’s mostly about enjoying more work by the prolific and enduring Murray. Jones (“BlackAF,” “The Office”) does some nice things here, but this is Murray’s show.
When the mystery is solved, for better or for worse, Laura suggests to Felix the next time he wants to spend some time with his daughter he simply should ask.
What fun would that be?
Source: Orange County Register