30 Oct 2020

Review: On the Rocks

From Widescreen, 2:32 pm on 30 October 2020

Sofia Coppola reunites with Bill Murray for some tepid comedy set among the Manhattan elite, reports Dan Slevin.

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks Photo: Apple

Apple TV+ is the not the most streamer around, if you are counting content. With a handful of original films and series and only one catalogue product (Fraggle Rock), it can look like a thin selection compared to the seemingly endless scrolling of titles on Netflix.

But, in keeping with Apple’s reputation for taste and minimalism, Apple TV+ has a stronger success rate for quality than its competitors. Here at Widescreen, we have championed the post-apocalyptic drama See, the Tom Hanks WWII naval thriller Greyhound and the incomparably upbeat comedy Ted Lasso. And, as cinemas remain short of product – or in some territories still simply closed – Apple has been judicious about picking up a few high profile theatrical features (like Greyhound) that can become tent poles for the streaming offering.

The latest is On the Rocks, a gentle – sometimes so gentle it simply doesn’t register at all – comedy by Sofia Coppola about a Manhattan author and mother of two young children (played by Rashida Jones) who becomes convinced that her high-flying husband (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair. She is egged on in this belief by her father, Bill Murray, a semi-retired art dealer with his own history of philandering.

Coppola, best known as a director for the visually stylish and dream-like arthouse hits The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Lost in Translation (2003), arrives here with a style that suppresses her usual aesthetic in favour of something a lot more prosaic. It’s almost as if there are no director’s fingerprints on this film at all.

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Photo: Apple

Jones plays Laura, a successful author now blocked because her previous routine of writing at night has been interrupted by the arrival and continued existence of her children. Like many mothers, she has to do the vast majority of the caregiving because her husband is busy bringing home the bacon. Vast quantities of bacon, it would appear because his unspecific tech startup is growing at a furious pace, requiring large amounts of inter and intra-continental travel, usually with his pretty English colleague, Fiona (or FiFi) played by Jessica Henwick.

As their intimate life is also suffering, Laura starts to wonder whether Dean’s distractedness is a symptom of something else, something more destructive to their Manhattan lifestyle. Her father Felix, played with just a hint of Bill Murray-ness by Bill Murray, arrives with his chauffeur to drive around town and spout some especially unreconstructed attitudes towards gender relationships and sexuality while at the same time clearly being a doting and loving father.

When Laura confesses her suspicions, Felix goes into private eye mode and they start following Dean around looking for confirmation of his infidelity.

On the Rocks feels like a rejected New Yorker short story. There doesn’t seem to be very much “here” here and the unquestioned urban privilege on display reminds me of Woody Allen, the biggest difference being the racial diversity of the family – pleasingly taken completely for granted.

Sofia Coppola directs Jones and Murray on the set of On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola directs Jones and Murray on the set of On the Rocks Photo: Apple

The film sometimes threatens to come up with some drama and then retreats, doing the same thing when it gets close to real comedy. It never quite takes flight and relies on the undeniable charms of its two leads to make it a satisfying watch.

You can see why Apple TV+ would have wanted it for their portfolio but, to be honest, it’s the first time I’ve been bored watching one of their selections.

On the Rocks is streaming now on Apple TV+ and is rated 15+.