Sunday, September 19, 2021

In the Reels: ‘On the Rocks’ needs a twist of lemon for taste

By Cameron Kaercher

Ever since her cinematic debut in 1999, Sofia Coppola’s films have consistently captured film fans’ attention. If her last name sounds familiar, she is actually the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, who directed all-time classics like “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather.”

As a writer and director, she has made impressive individual works despite being raised by an intensely formal filmmaker. Her debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” is a haunting story of lost adolescence that still feels mysterious 20 years after its release. The Oscar-winning screenplay for “Lost in Translation,” captures the hazy feeling of being out of place and out of time. The film is also recognized for cementing Bill Murray’s reputation as a serious, dramatic actor.

In Coppola’s latest film, produced by Apple TV+, she reunites with Murray for a less dower work.

“On the Rocks” stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a mother juggling raising two daughters and dealing with serious writer’s block. Her husband Dean, played by Marlon Wayans, is always on the go with his new business. Yet, this constant movement starts to plant concerns over his fidelity. Laura’s concerns are only made worse when her chauvinistic father, Felix, played by Bill Murray, comes to New York City and feeds into Laura’s fears over her possibly unfaithful husband.

The most interesting part of the film is how genre-fluid it is. Murray’s presence assures you that it is a comedy, and he is clearly happy with a role that isn’t a flat-out cameo rooted from a tired franchise. It is also a relationship drama, but it never reaches the exposed nerve tension of last year’s “Marriage Story.”

Last but not least, it is a spy-detective flick as Felix and Laura run around the city following Dean. There is a fun, indulgent car chase sequence about halfway through, which adds some action to the plot as well.

A good portion of the film sees the characters riding in cars around the city, and as they journey through NYC, it starts to feel reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.” Oddly enough, both films are capturing bygone eras; Hollywood in the 1960s and NYC pre-pandemic. One can feel an odd sense of nostalgia from a scene where the characters go into a club, full of people enjoying themselves — without a mask—, for a drink.

As both the writer and director, Sofia Coppola balances everything quite well. The story clearly comes from a place of love, but it also comes from a place that not all of us recognize.

It is difficult to forget that Coppola grew up with one of the most successful American filmmakers of the 70s.

The word privilege gets used quite often these days, but it does apply to this film’s world. Laura and Felix are able to walk into restaurants without any lines, at another point they are able to pack a suitcase and leave for Mexico the next day, and at one point — that borders on parody — they snack on caviar in a convertible.

The real “on the streets” poverty of NYC, captured in Kahlik Allah’s documentaries, might only be a couple of blocks down from this film’s world, but they feel like two different universes.

“On the Rocks” might make viewers yearn for the pre-pandemic days, but it will make fans of Coppola’s work nostalgic for her early works. She used to be an exciting filmmaking voice that was willing to set a biopic of Marie Antoinette against an electric post-punk soundtrack in “Marie Antoinette.”  “On the Rocks” is far from a bad movie, but it pales in comparison to the auteur’s previous works.

 

 

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