On the Rocks is Sofia Coppola taking a crack at a broad studio comedy. Coppola’s fondness for the Will Ferrell comedy, Daddy’s Home, shows in her Apple movie. On paper, the father-daughter movie has all the staples of a big and silly studio comedy. There’s exotic locations, rich people, a good dose of slapstick, easily resolved conflicts, and a generally light as a feather tone. It’s the studio comedy formula through the observant lens of Sofia Coppola, who’s made a low-key charmer with her latest picture.
Laura (Rashida Jones) is in a rut. The author’s novel isn’t coming together, and she’s worried her husband, played by Marlon Wayans, is having an affair. Life has taken a wrong turn for Laura, which is why she enlists the help of her deeply flawed but deeply fun father, Felix (Bill Murray). The two go on a mini adventure together, trying to discover whether Laura’s husband is cheating or not. The father-daughter make other discoveries along the way, though, mostly about each other.
First and foremost, On the Rocks is a comedy. Coppola’s movies all have their laughs, but she rarely goes for this many laughs in a single movie. There’s a lot of silliness in Coppola’s picture. It has a similar tone and style as her past work, inviting audiences to lean in or even lean back and observe as she does. But there’s some really broad stuff in the movie that, for the most part, is easily enjoyable entertainment.
It’s impossible to resist the charms of Murray and Jones racing through the streets of New York City, eating caviar, and tailing her husband. It’s a simple delight. The movie has several, several scenes that slap a smile on your face. Admittedly, not every joke hits, as is the case with most successful comedies. Coppola’s jokes can fall flat, so On the Rocks is a little more stiff than alive at times. The tiny bit of stiffness does stand out in the movie, but not enough to spoil the fun, only enough to notice.
There’s an elegant simplicity to On the Rocks. The father-daughter movie is a fine pairing with Coppola’s other father-daughter movie, Somewhere. The Apple movie is practically a spiritual sequel set years and years later in New York City. Once again, the father-daughter relationship is genuine. There are a few touching moments in which the pair open up to each other and have those real and unforgettable conversations adults have with their reflective and flawed parents. There’s one moment, in particular, that elevates On the Rocks beyond just a silly father-daughter comedy. It is a silly father-daughter comedy, which is why it entertains, but there’s an intimacy and vulnerability there, too.
By the end, On the Rocks sticks to its simplicity. The main conflicts resolve a little too tidily, but then again, it’s a comedy. That’s almost always how comedies work. On the Rocks may not be up there with some of Coppola’s best, but it doesn’t need to. Here, Coppola is just having fun and then some.
The filmmaker wisely let Murray off the leash and let him ham it up and charm everyone he crosses paths with, despite his crassness. Murray makes this character a lot more enjoyable to watch than he should be. He’s a dog, a dog who happens to be very funny and love his daughter. The love between Felix and Laura is heartfelt and believable. It helps that Coppola cast just two wildly likable actors as father-daughter. Even when the characters are hurting or struggling, they’re fun to watch. On the Rocks is Coppola’s vision of light and nice fun, and guess what? It’s light and nice fun.
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