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On The Rocks: Sofia Coppola tries her hand at a screwball caper

Far from the grandiosity of Marie Antoinette or the pathos of Lost in Translation, director Sofia Coppola’s new film, On The Rocks, is a much more loose, almost listless caper.Reuniting with Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, Coppola sets her intimate story in New York City, relying on the easy charm between two appealing stars.Writer Laura…

Far from the grandiosity of Marie Antoinette or the pathos of Lost in Translation, director Sofia Coppola’s new film, On The Rocks, is a much more loose, almost listless caper.

Reuniting with Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, Coppola sets her intimate story in New York City, relying on the easy charm between two appealing stars.

Writer Laura (Jones) is teetering towards an identity crisis of sorts. Creatively blocked and stuck in the rut of her children’s routines, she starts to suspect her Dean (Marlon Wayans) of infidelity with his younger business partner Fiona (Jessica Henwick).

When she confides in her father Felix (Murray) her suspicions, rather than soothe her anxieties, he fuels them. Felix convinces Laura to follow Dean around New York, tailing him from a work dinner in an attention-grabbing red convertible.

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Felix is an antiquated lothario who casually wears a seersucker jacket with a floral lapel pin and brings caviar and blinis as a snack to a stakeout. He’s what people would politely call “a character” to describe someone who, on a bad day, could be overbearing.

Coppola has said that there are touches of her father, Francis Ford Coppola, and his friends in Felix, but the character certainly represents men of a certain generation, and privileged ones at that.

Felix takes Laura to old-school New York institutions such as 21 Club and the bar of the Carlyle Hotel (where Coppola shot A Very Murray Christmas in 2015 with Murray and Jones), while scoffing at the trendy Soho House.

He knows every person in town, from cops to doormen, and knows what’s hanging in his neighbours’ hallways.

He says things like “males are forced to dominate and impregnant all females” without a hint of irony, but also clearly loves and respects his daughter – and Murray brings so much charisma to all his endeavours it’s hard to ever really hate a character he plays.

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In contrast, Laura doesn’t feel as tangible as Felix, perhaps a by-product of the character almost standing in her Coppola herself – we never know ourselves as much as we want to.

Or maybe it’s Laura’s quiet angst and vulnerability that makes her pale in comparison to her affable father.

Coppola has previously explored that father-daughter relationship before, in Somewhere, but this is a different dynamic, between two adults where the power balance isn’t so clear-cut.

On The Rocks is much more of a dialogue-driven story than Coppola’s usual fare, which tends to be focused on the aesthetic pleasures. And it’s in those screwball tete-a-tetes that their complicated relationship reveals itself – and what has maybe been left unsaid between them is eventually voiced.

It doesn’t have the fire of many of her previous works but there is a contentment to hanging out with these characters in this bubble Coppola has created.

While On The Rocks has many markings of a personal film, many of the emotional beats feel broad rather than specific. There’s a distance to the movie so that you never feel 100 per cent invested in the story – because it feels like you’ve seen it before.

Rating: 3/5

On The Rocks premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, October 2 and there’s a limited theatrical run at Palace cinemas nationally (excluding Victoria)

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