One can fantasize about how much Sofia Coppola was paid for this quick job or why she agreed to it. On the Rocks is a paint-by-number Coppola with a “this is 40” schema. Cityscapes, a quick jet-set, the occasional late night party, a medium shot of two people sharing a meal across a table. All iconography present. No shoegaze on the soundtrack, but Phoenix croons into the light-polluted eaten-by-the rich nouveau New York. Conversely, the film’s premiere sight is Bill Murray, drippy aged Gouda. Coppola’s camera clings to him, but the finely ripened actor can’t invigorate this limp noodle of a movie.
As a playboy dad, he drizzles suspicions into his daughter's ear (Rashida Jones) when she suspects her husband (Damon Wayans) may similarly chase skirt outside the home. The inciting tip off, and a convincing one in my opinion, is a feminine toiletry kit stowed in his carry-on, body oil included. So daughter and pop cavort around town as amateur dicks — one in formal wear, the other in I-no-longer-give-a-fuck casual mommy wear of earnest (not even norm core!) tennis shoes, Breton stripes, and feminine denim, all very Madewell. Betwixt stakeouts, conducted from a vintage red Alfa Romeo, the interpersonal weft of the film is Laura (Jones’s character) getting reacquainted with her caddish, devilish dad, woven with confrontations of his behavior — gentle misogyny disguised as charm — the little things, like hitting on every waking woman he encounters, which in the past amassed and broke down his marriage. Laura is the only person in her family in friendly contact with cher papa.
Unfortunately, nothing holds weight in the film; everything everyone does feels like a dramatic lie. The three stellar comic actors play it straight, squandering their talents to make space for Murray’s charm, operating off the fumes of his burnished glow. Wayans hardly registers as a sort of tech startup husband, whose big win arrives with the nth user/sign up, while Jones becomes the biggest victim of this feeble effort. The actress has little to work with, but she also possesses far too much self-assurance to pass muster as a character in traditional Sofia-world aloof, contemplative, burdened by ennui. As she sits at her desk in her well-appointed apartment peering out onto Prince Street, what might she be thinking of?
I was thinking about how easily she could get her Barbour jacket rewaxed down the block or stare at the hordes of tourists clogging the streets of Soho. Indeed, the film’s unfolds unmistakably in New York. Yet the customary pleasure of a Coppola film — inhaling the sights of a major metropolis, which are more than mere pillow shots but reinforce the aspirational mood — arrive stale. Can't fault her though, when billboards, clothing ads, and other emblems of a commodified city have been marring the skyline for years now. New York has lost its luster.
On the Rocks is actually Coppola’s first film in NYC. You’ll be excused if this comes as a surprise, as it did to me for momentarily; her persona feels inextricably linked to Manhattan, where sometimes lives, but in truth her film’s sensibilities are built on the allure of a globalized elite, which makes her films as comfortable in Tokyo as they are Los Angeles and New York. The spaces and settings she chooses to occupy are ultimately the same old standbys as as Woody Allen — Bemelmans Bar, 21 Club (RIP) — as well as newer haunts like Soho House. Add to the list of big ticket names: Cartier. which helps illustrate the the moral of the story: Bad dads give you vintage, while work-addled husbands gift new. Out with the old and in with the new.