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Review: Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks


On the Rocks
Sofia Coppola and Rashida Jones on set of On The Rocks

Seventeen years ago, filmmaker Sofia Coppola first teamed with actor Bill Murray for her second film, Lost in Translation. It changed so much for everyone involved, especially Coppola, who became only the second woman to get an Oscar nomination for her directing. Following a recent Christmas special for Netflix, Coppola and Murray reunite for On the Rocks, a film that reflects Coppola’s revised worldview as a mother with two young daughters. It also brings her to New York City, Noah Baumbach territory, for the first time, and that location may partially be what sets On the Rocks apart from all her previous work.

On the Rocks stars Rashida Jones as Coppola’s counterpart, Laura, who we meet on her wedding night to Marlon Wayans’ Dean. Years later, they have two kids and he’s super-busy with work, but she has begun to suspect he’s actually sleeping with his pretty younger assistant. When Laura’s philandering art dealer father Felix (Murray) shows up, he supports her suspicions about Dean and starts getting involved with investigating his supposed indiscretions.

On the Rocks (all photos: A24/Apple)
On the Rocks (all photos: A24/Apple)

Like Lost in Translation, On the Rocks isn’t a comedy with a capital “C,” despite Murray’s ever-witty presence. Thusly, it doesn’t require any sort of high-speed editing from Coppola’s regular editor Sarah Flack to ensure the timing is right – Murray just has that naturally, allowing Jones to take on the role of frustrated daughter, rolling her eyes about whatever her father is getting up to at any given moment. Usually, that involves hitting on any pretty woman he encounters.

Make no mistake that this is Jones’ movie, since it mostly focuses on Norah’s worries about her husband’s fidelity, something that seems like a particularly relevant and relatable theme within many marriages. It also seems like a mature theme for Coppola, only since she’s managed to create an aura around herself of being a timeless filmmaker. This may be because many of us first saw her as a teen, starring in her father’s film, The Godfather Part 3. (Trust me. You will not want to look up Coppola’s current age, because it’s likely to make you feel very old.)

After Jones, the real champion and MVP for Coppola’s latest has to be Cinematographer Philippe LeSourd (The Grandmaster), the two reuniting after he shot her 2017 remake of The Beguiled. After the performances by the actors, the first thing most people will notice about this movie is how absolutely gorgeous it looks, and that’s partially because he makes New York City look stunning, whether it’s during the daytime or the night sequences. The whole film is so beautifully lit and shot that it reminds you of New York City in its prime, which most certainly isn’t where it’s at right now.  It isn’t even just the outdoor space that use street lighting but also the indoor bars and restaurants where the lighting plays such a huge part in the mood being created. When the story moves to a resort in Mexico, LeSourd maintains the quality of the visuals so that shift in locations isn’t even remotely jarring.

On the Rocks
On the Rocks

Other than the film’s jaunt down south, Coppola manages to find suitable locations all around New York’s Soho district, which doesn’t necessarily require much production design from Anne Ross, another longtime Coppola collaborator. Even so, Ross’s department, especially set dressing, are particularly crucial for the indoor spaces like Norah and Dean’s apartment, which has so many things scattered about to draw the eye and tell you more about them as humans.

Another thing worth spotlighting in On the Rocks is the film’s score by rock group Phoenix, the band led by Coppola’s husband, lead singer Thomas Mars. The songs they’ve written for the film, combined with the interstitial cues, blend together so well, that it’s little surprise why Coppola regularly is praised for her choice of musical collaborators going back to working with Air on her first feature, and then My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields for Lost in Translation.

As much as On the Rocks is a character piece that leans heavily on Coppola’s terrific script and equally great cast, she surrounds them with some amazing work by a crew who prove what a huge role they’ve played in what people have enjoyed about Coppola’s filmmaking, going all the way back to The Virgin Suicides in 1999.

After a sneak preview this week at Film at Lincoln Center‘s 58th Annual New York Film FestivalOn the Rocks will be screened theatrically starting October 2 via A24 and then will stream on Apple TV+ starting October 23.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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