Reel Dad: Bill Murray shines in Sofia Coppola film ‘On the Rocks’ at New York Film Festival
As parents, we try to protect our children from realities we fear they may experience.
Now and then we may try too hard to stand in between these people we love and situations they must confront as we hope, somehow, we can absorb the pain they must face. While our efforts may not solve every challenge, they do express what we want for kids. And, just as we once did, our sons and daughters learn important lessons for themselves.
Moviemaker Sofia Coppola, daughter of Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, explores the well-intentioned yet misguided efforts of one father as he intervenes in his daughter’s life in her new film, “On the Rocks.” This selection at the virtual New York Film Festival — scheduled to stream next month on Apple TV+ — may remind parents to give adult children credit for making their own decisions as well as help children remember, now and then, to give parents the benefit of the doubt.
Coppola’s look at father-daughter dynamics is, actually, quite precious. Laura, the daughter, (played by Rashida Jones) finds herself in a marriage defined by its routine. With a career as a writer, two children and a husband who frequently travels, this woman finds herself searching for purpose and belonging beyond what she does for those close to her. When the pace of daily life takes away time with her husband, she begins to wonder what else may be capturing his interest. Just as the film begins to explore Laura’s doubts, her father, Felix, (played by Bill Murray) arrives in the city with his own agenda to connect with his daughter. When he also begins to suspect her husband, father and daughter reach beyond their immediate suspicions to examine what their own relationship has become.
Just as moviemaker Coppola so creatively accomplished in “Lost in Translation,” for which she won an Oscar for writing, she uses layers of conversation to search the souls of her characters. No matter where these people may find themselves, whether in a classic convertible driving through Manhattan or the bar at the Carlyle Hotel or walking down a New York City street, Coppola uses her gift of language to help them express what they miss each day. For Laura, the appearance of a satisfying life no longer seems enough; for Felix, the opportunity to make up for past neglects is too much to pass by. For each, the bonds of family become something to stand on as they try to endure the challenges daily living can bring.
For Murray, “On the Rocks” offers an ideal opportunity to showcase a special gift to convey the essence of character without overstating the performance. This nuanced approach enables us to naturally get to know the intentions behind this man’s actions. As Murray has in so many films over the years, he uses his subtle sense of humor to celebrate the ironies that any relationship can generate. He turns in a delightful performance that may make you smile.
As parents, we may be accused, now and then, of trying too hard to make the world easier for our offspring to navigate. “On the Rocks” celebrates how, even on our worst days, our good intentions to soothe wounds can make a difference to the children we love.
Film Nutritional Value: On the Rocks
Content: High. The characters are fresh and the situations compelling, filling the film with real emotion, caring and need.
Entertainment: High. This look into the challenges a father and daughter face together focuses on the many layers that define essential relationships.
Message: High. Moviemaker Coppola resists any temptation to rely on easy answers to the important questions her characters face.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to get to know such interesting people and learn from their interactions can be meaningful.
Opportunity for dialogue: High. We can learn from how these people in the film lean on each other as they search for clarity.
“On the Rocks” is rated R for “some language/sexual references.” The film runs 1 hour, 36 minutes.