Apple TV+ film review: On the Rocks
James R | On 23, Oct 2020
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans
Watch On the Rocks online in the UK: Apple TV+
“Hey, kiddo,” says Bill Murray’s Felix, as he parks outside the apartment of his daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones). And with those two words, we know everything we need to know about him, her and their entire relationship. It’s that kind of beautifully observed portrayal of characters that marks out Sofia Coppola’s work as so delightful, and On the Rocks is painted with a breezy charm that belies its pinpoint precision.
Felix rocks up to catch up with his daughter, as her birthday is on the horizon – and as her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is growing increasingly distant. Maybe he’s just lost interest, she wonders. Maybe he’s cheating, Felix declares. That difference in the way they view the world is essential to their dynamic – Felix is a dinosaur who thinks that men are all programmed biologically to cheat on their partners and impregnate as many women as possible. Women, meanwhile, belong to their fathers, until they get married. And even then, they still belong to their pops.
Felix’s outdated, simplified view of the world is immediately at odds with that of his daughter, who is currently going through the midlife challenge of working out exactly who she is. Is she a mother? A wife? Still a doting daughter? The answer lies in a complex mix of all and none of these things, and Coppola and Jones lean into that layered, nuanced exploration of persona and personality – one of the most gasp-inducing moments is seeing what Dean buys Laura for her birthday, which says everything about how he now views her.
The script gently digs into the growing cracks in their relationship, as the pair drift apart into their own roles, while trying remember who they were before those roles started to take over. The very fact that Felix’s sexist perception of the world can spark suspicion in Laura is telling in itself. That’s not to say that there’s no appeal to their domestic routines; Coppola captures the day-to-day realities of their family (from teeth-brushing to school runs) with a lived-in familiarity and an affectionate intimacy. Marlon Wayans’ excellent performance is ambiguous enough to be both sincerely loving and plausibly duplicitous, often at the same time.
But this is Bill Murray and Rashida Jones’ show, and the duo are a double-act to die for. As she tries to whistle and he tries to flirt with every woman they meet, they trade witty remarks and amusing facial expressions with a comfortable ease, sparking off each other like old-school Hollywood stars in a screwball caper.
Beneath their whimsical exchanges, though, is a bittersweet meditation on gender gaps, generational differences and clinging to one’s identity. Coppola laces their bonhomie with a spiky criticism, as Felix shows no sign of changing, and no wish to change, but also is incapable of conceiving that other people can change and grow – even as he escapes his own life for a bout of amateur sleuthing. “It must be very nice to be you,” shoots Laura at her dad, after he talks his way out of a spot of bother without a thought for his privilege. (Jenny Slate, meanwhile, steals whole scenes as the permanently talking fellow parent at school, who is also going through her own challenge of finding herself through the prism of another relationship.)
“You need to learn how to listen to women,” Laura reminds her father, and it’s testament to Murray’s irrepressible star power that he’s still a joy to spend time with, no matter how many times you roll your eyes. His bright red convertible that whisks them from one New York hotspot to the next is the perfect vehicle for his blasé existence, gliding along without a care in the world.
The result is a sparkling ride that picks apart big questions with the lightest of touches. Lensed by DoP Philippe Le Sourd with a laidback, gorgeously drinkable colour palette, Coppola lets us glide alongside this amiably odd couple, before hanging back to watch them fade into the distance.
On the Rocks is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.