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Review: Sofia Coppola’s ‘On the Rocks’ is a pretty, weak drink

Eric Webb
Bill Murray, left, a frequent Sofia Coppola player, has easy chemistry with Rashida Jones in "On the Rocks."

Like a classic cocktail, the ingredients are all there for a good movie in “On the Rocks.”

Add one part Sofia Coppola. The dynastic director’s flair for visual patisserie puts her in rarefied company as a stylist. See the punk pastels of “Marie Antoinette,” the gas-lamp goth of “The Beguiled,” the feat of coaxing a charismatic turn out of Emma Watson in “The Bling Ring.”

Mix in one part Rashida Jones. Sometimes the expert sitcom straightwoman to Amy Poehler and John Krasinski, sometimes a behind-the-scenes force of anything from “Celeste and Jesse Forever” to “Toy Story 4,” always a paragon of coolness.

Stir in a several drops of Bill Murray. I’m not gonna even list anything for him, because he is Bill Murray.

Those three teaming up for a wry New York story in these, our darkest days? You’d hope for style out the wazoo. A little something smooth but bitter, to take the edge off. But “On the Rocks,” written, directed and produced by Coppola and starring Jones and Murray, doesn’t pack the punch you want. It sure looks nice, though.

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Jones plays Laura, a writer who lives in an impossibly glossy, monochrome Big Apple apartment with her adorable young children and husband Dean (Marlon Wayans). Dean is the kind of businessman who lives out of a suitcase about as often as he lives at home. By all appearances, they’re an enviable portrait, but signs of doubt are creeping into Laura’s side of the frame.

She seeks the advice of Felix (Murray), her rich scoundrel of a father — everyone in this movie is rich — who asks her if Dean might be philandering. (Felix would know what that looks like, the cad.) Whether that’s projection or well-founded suspicion, it’s enough to plant the seed of doubt in Laura’s mind. An investigation soon is afoot, which turns into the weirdest kind of father-daughter bonding exercise.

There’s nothing so fun as a true caper in “On the Rocks,” though a little basic espionage and a car chase come close. Coppola obviously has a knack for a light touch leaving a deep effect — “Lost In Translation” took folks’ hearts with a whisper, and “Somewhere” is arguably even more graceful — so let’s hope no one assumes going into this that they’ll get “Rat Race II: This One Has People Wearing Paris Review T-Shirts.”

But 40 minutes in, I wondered, “When does the movie start?” and I sympathized with Laura and Dean’s Roomba, blindly wandering through shiny peoples’ shiny problems.

The pacing takes its sweet time even getting to a simmer. Fortunately, “On the Rocks” knows where its most powerful charms bubble: the stars. Jones and Murray just work so well together. It’s nice to know you can be sure of some things in life.

That said, Laura’s not drawn too deeply as a character (neither is Dean, for that matter). Her main trait seems to be vague ennui, which Jones does sell amid a life of Strand-tote-wearing comfort, and while schlepping the kids to school and making small talk with the other moms (including an “Oh, thank god you’re here” Jenny Slate). These might have something to do with the melancholy, but Laura’s fears and desires remain more opaque than subtly rendered.

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But hey, generalized malaise with “having it all” might follow if you were raised by Murray’s Felix, rakish and misogynistic and voluptuary as he is. Coppola elegantly doesn’t give us all the backstory, but we glean enough to understand how a dad like this makes a daughter like that: with the help of Italian pop, caviar and a wandering eye. And Murray, well. He’s just riffing between the lines of character and self like always, isn’t he? Cheers to that.

Coppola lost me some on the script’s meditations about nature — the film’s gender politics sway drunkenly between retrograde and enlightened. But if “On the Rocks” doesn’t want to go full caper, then a rumination on modern love and male fragility will have to do.

At this movie’s weakest, “The Neverending Story” comes to mind. And I don’t just mean that as a reference to the plot drag. I mean the film feels like being magically transported into a fully realized fantasy, but instead of an enchanted storybook about dragons, it’s an Instagram story from your least interesting friend, who seems to be having relationship problems but did just go to Pottery Barn, so that’s nice.

At its strongest, though, “On the Rocks” is a sweet, slight, sleepy thing, where the answer to life’s sorrows is Bill Murray and Rashida Jones sharing a sundae, jazz piano in the air.

‘On the Rocks’

Grade: C+

Starring: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rated: R for some language and sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Watch: Streaming Friday on Apple+ TV

Rashida Jones, left, and Bill Murray play a daughter-father duo in "On the Rocks."