‘On the Rocks’ Is a Warm and Charming Look at Family Dynamics

Courtesy of A24, American Zoetrope

Sofia Coppola’s newest feature is the first offering of the new partnership between famed indie studio A24 and the Apple TV+ streaming service. It’s theatrical right now but will be on Apple TV+ in late October. Does it benefit from the theatrical distribution or is it fine at home, and more importantly is this thing any good?

Laura (Rashida Jones) is a New York wife, mother and author who is experiencing some writer’s block. She’s approaching 40 and she hasn’t achieved the career goals she set out for herself. Her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), however, is very successful and is constantly away on work trips and she’s concerned he might be unfaithful. She calls her rich and successful playboy father Felix (Bill Murray), who is eager to help her get to the bottom of this and prove Dean’s infidelity.

I enjoyed On the Rocks for the same reason I enjoyed the Lifetime movie where Joan and Melissa Rivers play themselves in the wake of the patriarch’s suicide. This is rich showbiz people therapy, projected on a big screen. There’s no doubt in my mind this film is a thinly veiled metaphor for Coppola’s relationship with her father, famed director Francis Ford Coppola. There’s nothing explicitly Coppola about either of these lead characters, but there’s also a lot here to suggest that this is really just the Coppola family working stuff out, and if that sounds like something you would like, then you probably would like it. Is it self-indulgent? Absolutely, but I found myself not really caring about that.

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray have a really lovely chemistry, as the daughter who has stuck by her father even as the rest of the family has written him off. The two see eye to eye in a way she doesn’t with the rest of the family and they have a very snappy repartee which is uncommon in Coppola’s more quiet, mood-driven films. It’s unclear how much of this dialogue is in Coppola’s script and how much of it is just Jones and Murray improv. Laura is uptight and kind of depressed, and Felix is the kind of guy who gets along with everyone he meets, and can’t help but flirt with every waitress who crosses his path. There’s lots of witty dialogue and building comedic tension that doesn’t really amount to much, but it’s still a joy to be around these characters.

Coppola re-teams with her The Beguiled cinematographer, Philippe Le Sourd. He shoots a breathtakingly beautiful New York City, one the world is unfortunately deprived of right now in a moment where everything is closed down. Laura’s day-to-day life, however, of getting the kids to school, and taking them to ballet class, and rushing everyone home doesn’t give her a lot of room to enjoy the city. That is, until her father forces her out of the house for gossipy dinners where he offers what he thinks is sage advice, and more importantly, pays the check.

On the Rocks would lose probably nothing from the big screen to streaming. Other than the aforementioned New York beauty shots, there isn’t a lot here that you absolutely must see projected in a theater. It’s a small, dialogue-heavy character study that goes down easy, and it would be just fine at home. Is it worth getting a subscription to Apple TV+ to watch this film? Well, considering it’s only $5 a month and there’s some other stuff there you should see (The Morning Show, Dickinson, Oprah’s new talk show), I would say go for it. They’re always running promos anyway. On the Rocks is a warm and charming look at family dynamics and it’s absolutely worth seeing.

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