Directed By Sofia Coppola
Starring – Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans
The Plot – A New York woman (Jones) and her impulsive, larger-than-life father (Murray) try to find out if her husband (Wayans) is having an affair.
Rated R for some adult language and sexual references
– Lucid limelight. Like a lot of Coppola films, this is another one that takes presence in its setting seriously, and fleshes it out in a way where it becomes a living, breathing character in the background of the mayhem ensuing. In setting this film in the big apple, we not only get a sense of the business-first mentality that its characters become saddled with, complete with wide angle shots that always intentionally make the characters feel smaller in comparison, but also a taste of the culture, which resonates in the many unique touches of production that are easily intoxicating to become seduced by. The jazz musical score by Phoenix preserves an element of class and sophistication behind the New York nightlife, and the soft serenity of the cinematography from Philippe Le Sourd emanates French encompassing to a domestic proximity that is very much easy on the eyes in the vein of indie movie precedents. It is easily Apple Tv’s most beautifully ambitious production to date, and is a noticeable step forward for bridging the gap between theatrical and streaming offerings.
– Synthetic dialogue. Much of the conversations and transitions between characters in the film feel ingrained with subtlty in its believability, giving us several long-winded discussions that mature with the level of subconscious that its characters are holding onto just beneath the surface. For father and daughter here, that means breaking through the barriers of initial small talk and familiarities of personality in favor of the root of some deep-seeded issues that have remained persistent and never addressed. As time persists and these characters spend more time together, the magnitude and sentimentality of the conversations evolve, and quickly amount to something that feels therapeutic in a sense that feels like it has been a long time coming. Most importantly, nothing ever feels obvious or intentionally leading in direction with convenience to its screenplay, giving the pacing of the banter involved a level of human context that doesn’t feel catered for a cinematic enveloping.
– Impactful performances. This is far and away the Bill Murray show, complete with scene-stealing deliveries and endless charisma that elevates the flat material to levels of intrigue, but Rashida Jones also turns in another surprisingly dramatic underlying to her character that articulates the disdain and resentment from the two men in her life who matter most to her. The chemistry between Jones and Murray is especially rewarding, in that they not only feel like kin, but also compliment with how they compliment each other by bringing out the true intention of their respective characters. For Murray, that’s obviously to be a laid-back, care free charmer who plays more to the rooms he invades than the daughter who constantly needs him. For Jones, it’s Murray’s pushing and prodding that demands she finds the answers that she seeks in her life but has never been bold enough to attain. They challenge each other in ways that beg more of their respective characters, and are a constant delight to watch and engage in because their crooked smiles tell the story of how much they enjoy working together.
– Love-letter to fatherhood. Even though much of the film is marketed as a romantic drama towards a husband and wife possibly falling out of love with one another, the real underlying issue in the film is the conflicting ideals of parenthood that sometimes weigh heavily on those we raise. While nothing is truly dark or challenging about the conflicts of this father and daughter, we learn more about their bond or lack there of the longer we spend more time with them, and document everything from their body language towards one another to conflicting pasts, which are brought up in more than a few ways during the film. In the end, though, it’s clear that Coppola admires the polarizing position of parenthood, outlining Murray’s protagonist with a gentle albeit naive nature to play against the lasting impact that we see from Jones’ daughter character. Throughout the film, we learn that a father is the one who knows her best, he’s the one who constantly puts his life on hold to fend for her, and he’s one always there to pick up the pieces when everything else falls out. It’s a true testament to father figures everywhere, and one that would’ve accommodated a Father’s Day release terrifically if the studio went that route.
– Tonally evolving. With Coppola, you expect a drama. With Murray and Jones, you expect a comedy. So is the compromise fulfilled to the point to satisfy both audiences? Absolutely. On the dramatic side of things, the near entirety of the second and third acts are maintained in the clutches of its director by zeroing in on this woman’s life that could possibly be falling apart, and focuses on everything from the kids, to the residence, to her own flailing career as an author hanging in the balance. Then there’s the comedy, which thankfully doesn’t settle for some of the underwhelming cliche circumstances of most contemporary comedies, instead choosing to cut a slice of life from the mundane repetitions of life, and all of its torture. One such example pertains to Jones being forced to endure a fellow mom’s (Played by Jenny Slate) constant stories of gossip day after day, and how it plays to Jones registry, but also how the scene is cleverly edited to capture the derivative nature of its circumstance. So the humor is very much like that instead of a series of punchlines, but one I found rewarding for the way it plucks laughs from these life moments that are very familiar to anyone watching.
– Scenic lighting. Without question, my favorite aspect of Coppola as a visual storyteller is her use of lighting, and how it plays into an almost mesmerizing quality when played against the cinematography. For “On the Rocks”, she uses a lot of naturalistic environmental elements to flesh out realism to the context of the scene, but beyond that it’s the way that the illumination caters to the characters in frame, outlining a context for importance that puts the characters front-and-center in a room full of people. Case in point, the movie’s two night time restaurant sequences, which are splashed with a subtle sting of yellow tint from overhead influence that outline the framing with what feels like a painter’s vantage point, and really gives the sequence an artistic quality stemming from life playing out before our very eyes. It provides no shortage of beauty for the biggest little city in the world, that I previously mentioned, all the while preserving some of the most visually serene images that are only getting better with more experience.
– History repeated. Another reoccurring theme throughout Coppola’s filmography is the ideas of isolation of doubt, which are very well known throughout her films, but made especially noteworthy in “Lost in Translation”. There’s an eery sense of framing during these moments of self-reflection for Jones’ character, particularly the still shots of solitude which convey this idea of the character in frame getting the best of herself. This is often why Jones calls on her father to break the silence of a mind hard at work, during moments when the children are away or out of her reach. Beyond that, it establishes why Coppola is such a psychological filmmaker, emitting these internal feelings and fears, and fleshing them out in a way that registers emotion with the distinctly cold framing designs that often follow her protagonists to the ends of the Earth, and keeps tabs on them where most films would edit out the periods of down time.
– Technical faults. There are a couple of instances in production where the ambition gets the better of Coppola, particularly in certain editing flaws and underwhelming audio deposits, which shortchange the production value of the movie. On the former, there are two scenes in particular where the editing doesn’t make sense with how two scenes are stitched together, and requires some suspension of disbelief to keep moving with the characters. One such instance involves Murray and Jones being at an art museum in one scene, then in the same present day she’s shown walking down the street alone in the next cut. Did her dad not want to give her a ride home? Did he meet a woman at the gallery? We will never know. On the audio deposits, one scene involving Murray coming to Jones home and hanging out with her kids is as horribly spliced together as anything I’ve seen in 2020. The mouth movements don’t line up properly, there’s times when his jaw isn’t moving during a side angle, yet we hear him talking anyway, and moments when the audio enhances and decreases in volume despite the character remaining physically grounded within the context of the scene.
– Minimalist conflict. So much of the central plot of this film feels stretched for realism, but also starved for time to really make its dramatic influence pop with the uncertainty of the audience or vulnerability of the protagonist. It feels like one of those conflicts that could easily be solved in a ten minute conversation, even echoed as such during the film’s closing minutes where a character says as much. There are a couple of what I guess you could call signs that this is happening, but no moment of indiscretion that stands out as the pivotal moment where a wife would suspect her husband is cheating on her. It amounts to as little as an anthill when you consider that the script nearly abandons this conflict in favor of the father/daughter dynamic, and inevitably leads to a resolution that feels like an afterthought by the time the credits roll for how easily it all ties together.
– The Murray fantasy. This might sound like a positive, but I feel like a majority of the themes and direction for the movie took a backseat to the desire to live out a series of Bill Murray fantasies by his spirited fans. The problem in this context is this woman, his daughter in the film, has her life quite literally falling apart at the seams, and the movie, nor Bill, ever expresses an ounce of concern as such, illustrating their time spent as this caper of sorts that is more fun than possibly tragic for what she has on the line. If the movie attempts the cool Bill Murray feat once or twice throughout the movie, that would be one thing, but when you consider his character’s history illustrates him as this cheater who is only useful because of the very same things he did to her mother previously, then you start to understand how insensitive it is to be treating these stakeout missions with an air of comic relief. It’s an irresponsible take by Coppola and company that undercuts the dramatic tension of some scenes, and makes much of the material feel artificial with emotional resonance.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-