“You’re mine until you get married,” says Bill Murray’s instantly recognisable voice in the opening of this bittersweet tale of fathers and daughters, husbands and wives. “Then you’re still mine.” It’s a refrain that echoes throughout writer-director Sofia Coppola’s very enjoyable (and deceptively deep) seventh feature, a film that knowingly lifts riffs from screwball capers and melancholy romcoms alike, writing love letters to the city of New York as it swirls from one upmarket fairytale locale to the next.
Rashida Jones is Laura, a thirtysomething writer struggling to juggle creativity and childcare, who comes to doubt the fidelity of her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans). A preponderance of business trips and an unexpectedly abridged nocturnal encounter make Laura wonder whether Dean’s thoughts are elsewhere. But it’s her perennial playboy father, Felix (Murray), who really sets alarm bells ringing, telling his daughter that all men are the same (ie they’re all like him) and gleefully insisting that they take joint action to uncover Dean’s potential duplicitousness.
What follows is a whimsically comedic adventure in which Felix and Laura pursue Dean around the city (and even to Mexico), while swapping sassy Nora Ephron-style observations about the differences between men and women, with an added generation-gap edge, like Father of the Bride crossed with When Harry Met Sally.
Having earned an Oscar nomination for his lead role in Coppola’s 2003 hit Lost in Translation, Murray is once again on deliciously deadpan form as the ageing lothario who has spent his life chasing women, yet longs to be loved by the daughter he idolises. For Felix, the suggestion that Laura’s marriage may indeed be on the rocks is a perverse form of wish-fulfilment, offering an excuse for him to step into the fray, imparting outdated lessons about life and love and while grandstanding as a sleuth-cum-spy, a role he’s clearly enjoying too much.
Jones (who coincidentally played a dejected bride being offered fatherly advice in Coppola’s 2015 Netflix production A Very Murray Christmas) is brilliant as the writer blocked by the pressures of parenthood, whose anxieties about her husband reflect deeper worries about her own worth – her life, her talent, her achievements. That these worries should be rooted in (and fed by) a lifetime of Felix’s philandering is something Coppola’s script explores with a deceptive lightness of touch.
Scenes of Dad charming traffic cops while Laura rolls her eyes are great fun (“It must be very nice to be you”), but more telling is her embarrassment when he comes on to the waitress or, worse, to one of her daughter’s ballet teachers. When Felix casually declares that he’s become deaf to the sound of women’s voices (“it’s the pitch”), Coppola cuts to the heart of the matter, forcing Laura to finally stand her ground and to remind him that “you have daughters and granddaughters, so you’d better start figuring out how to hear them”.
Lovingly shot by cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, who worked on Coppola’s dreamy-looking remake of The Beguiled, On the Rocks is very easy on the eye, with bangles, bracelets and watches used to illustrate an underlying theme of ownership as we flit from Raoul’s bistro in SoHo to Midtown’s 21 Club, taking in the table where Bogie proposed to Bacall. Jenny Slate makes the most of a recurrent (and very funny) psychobabbling cameo, while on the soundtrack, the dusty tones of Chet Baker spar with the French electropop of Phoenix, embodying the film’s blend of dewy nostalgia and clear-eyed modernity.
On the Rocks is in cinemas now and from 23 October on Apple TV+