Film review: ‘ON THE ROCKS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

With her latest film On the Rocks, writer/director Sophia Coppola (Lost in Translation) once again conjures a restrained, leisurely-paced but extremely charming story of an unusual relationship between an older man and a younger woman.

Here, the younger woman is Lauren played by the wonderful Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) a writer and mother of two small children starting to feel the oppression of domesticity and who suspects her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) of having an affair with a work colleague.  The older man is Felix, Lauren’s wealthy, irresponsible art dealer father played by the inimitable Bill Murray. When Lauren mentions her concerns about her husband, Felix does just about everything to make her more paranoid and suggests they trail Dean like amateur detectives.  Their bumbling attempts at surveillance provide a chance for them to learn more about each other, explore anxieties and past issues and to reaffirm their father/ daughter relationship.

It’s a credit to Coppola and the cast that they’re able to draw such an engaging film from what is admittedly a wafer-thin plot.  It’s only towards the end that we start wishing the film had some more meat on its bones.  Plot mechanics and action are of secondary importance in this film, though, as Coppola’s really interested in character and the affectionate combat of family relationships.

Rashida Jones is every bit as endearing here as she was in Parks and Recreation, her matter-of-fact style perfectly suiting Coppola’s low-key approach.  She and Bill Murray make a sparkling double act.  It seems like Bill Murray just turns up on set and the director says ‘go for it’ because Murray always seems to play himself and his films are all the better for it.  As the ageing, slightly sleazy reprobate dad, Murray once again exudes that knowing, affectionately mocking cheekiness and deadpan wit that film fans have loved for decades. He doesn’t convey quite as much pathos here as he did in Lost in Translation but he effortlessly commands the screen in every scene in which he appears.

From the faded dream-like tones of The Virgin Suicides to the striking pastel palette of Marie Antoinette, Sophia Coppola has managed to forge a distinct visual style with each of her films. Set in contemporary New York, On the Rocks doesn’t offer such an unmistakable look although it occasionally captures the appeal of the New York cityscape similar to the way Woody Allen has done in so many films.  Fans of the Virgin Suicides will also be thrilled to see Coppola evoke a classic scene from that film.

On the Rocks is a little light-weight but it’s also a warm, touching and often funny look at the resentment and affection swirling beneath the surface of families.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Sophia Coppola.

Release date: 2nd Oct 2020.

Running time: 97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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