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Jones, Murray star in Coppola’s father-daughter study

Dan Webster

Above: Rashida Jones and Bill Murray star in Sofia Coppola's film "On the Rocks." (Photo: Apple)

Movie review: "On the Rocks," written and directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans. Streaming on Apple TV+.

New York-based writer Laura has a problem. OK, it’s kind of a privileged problem.

I mean, she does live in a spacious Manhattan apartment. She’s married to a hard-working, successful guy who is a good father to their two exceedingly cute daughters. She’s a published author. And as imagined by writer-director Sofia Coppola in her feature film “On the Rocks,” the world in which Laura and her family live isn’t threatened by anything as forbidding as a world-wide pandemic.

So considering everything, maybe Laura’s situation doesn’t seem all that serious. But, then, personal troubles tend to be relative, right? And anyway, as Coppola portrays it, Laura (played by Rashida Jones) is experiencing more than merely the kind of mid-life malaise that tends to hit all of us in one way or another.

While her husband Dean (played by Marlon Wayans) is busy trying to expand his business, her days are fairly routine: fixing breakfast, getting her girls off to school and listening to a friend drone on about her love life. And that’s the good news.

But then sitting in front of a computer screen, Laura finds herself unable to summon up not just the right words but any words at all. And even if that doesn’t sound all that bad, Laura has been growing increasingly concerned that the romantic spark seems to have faded in her marriage.

Oh, Dean is affectionate, but it’s in a brotherly, peck-on-the-cheek kind of way. He’s always going away with his strikingly attractive personal assistant. Laura found a bag of her toiletries, of all things, in his luggage. And there was that moment one night in bed when, half asleep, he reached for her – but pulled away upon recognizing her voice. Who does that?

Well, according to Laura’s dad Felix, a guy who’s cheating on his wife does that. And, of course, he himself would know, seeing as many years before he cheated on Laura’s mother – and has, since then, led an auspiciously sybaritic lifestyle.

Whether he is right, though, becomes the basis for what Coppola has concocted as a plot for “On the Rocks.” Because Felix, played by none other than Bill Murray, then enlists Laura on a mission to see if his theory is correct – a mission that, geographically, takes the two not just around New York but eventually to Mexico, that comically involves more than a bit of farcical skullduggery, and yet, emotionally, causes Laura to question whether the father she loves – and who clearly loves her – ultimately has her best interests at heart.

Father-daughter issues would seem to be a natural topic for Coppola, daughter of the great filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola of “The Godfather” fame. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone to emerge from the shadow of such a famous parent, but the younger Coppola has spent the last two decades doing just that.

Beginning in 1999 with “The Virgin Suicides” and continuing with such feature films as “Lost in Translation” (also starring Murray), “Marie Antoinette,” “The Bling Ring,” “Somewhere” and her 2017 remake of “The Beguiled,” Coppola has amassed a resumé of films that center largely on stories involving women. Whether we’re watching a character played by Scarlett Johansson trying to find her life’s purpose, Kirsten Dunst as the French queen losing her head or Emma Watson playing a young thief talking about karma, Coppola’s main interest is in who her characters are and what causes them to do what they do.

Which is why our sympathies should, naturally enough, be with Laura. As mine were, even when Murray – as he usually does – overwhelms everything with his inherent sense of charm. Everyone he meets, from doormen to the police officer whom he sweet-talks out of giving him a ticket, loves Murray’s Felix. Coppola even gives Murray a scene where he croons a song as he did on Saturday Night Live.

Despite all this, Jones, the daughter of another storied father – the composer and record producer Quincy Jones – manages to hold her own. But no matter what her intent was, Coppola can’t avoid Murray’s innate comic sensibilities from taking over.

As for his Felix, well, he’s a bit too old to change. And his need for his daughter’s love and attention are just too great. At the beginning of “On the Rocks,” he says to a young Laura in voiceover, “And remember, don’t give your heart to any boys. You’re mine until you get married … then you’re still mine.”

While that line doesn’t come across as creepy as it may sound, Felix’s emotional needs do weigh on his daughter. And it is up to her to realize this en route to becoming her own, independent woman.

Just as, we are free to imagine, Coppola herself had to do. 

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