There’s a scene at about the midway point where Laura and Felix tail Dean through lower Manhattan and they get pulled over by a cop. Murray’s hellcat manages to convince the arresting officer that he knew his father long enough to not only get out of a ticket but get the cop and his partner to give them a jump in starting the antique Italian sports car he’s driving for the evening. This, we can’t help but imagine, is how it must feel to be Sofia Coppola at a film festival. You can’t even get pulled over without a cop offering to give you a lift. Your dad made “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather,” of course they want to help.
Coppola’s made a couple of films about her complicated relationship to the real world and the famous men who tend to set its boundaries (2003’s “Lost in Translation”, 2010’s “Somewhere”), but this is the first one that finds her small enough to admit her place in it happens to be in the shadow of the guy who helped coin cinematic grammar as we know it. It’s a remarkably vulnerable thing to do this far into a career all about debunking legends and iconoclastic gestures, and it’s one of the many empathetic pleasures to be found in this frequently heartbreaking film.
“On the Rocks” plays like a hardwired Italian comedy, from the silly surveillance job Murray and Jones pull on Wayans to the quick jag to a gorgeous resort in the third act. This is a film that pulls towards awkward and silly humanity like an old roadster nosing towards the shoulder. Murray, with his voice finally betraying his age, has an immaculate wardrobe that cuts a figure like some ur-Fellini gentleman scoundrel. We remember how his renaissance began, working with Coppola’s cousin Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore” and then for the director herself in “Lost in Translation” and the more charming than it ought be “A Very Murray Christmas.” And, thanks to Coppola’s use of Michael Nyman’s “In Re Don Giovanni,” a cut from Peter Greenaway’s “The Falls,” which predicted all of American Independent cinema, we see Coppola trying to cobble together a kind of roadmap through her very Italian American heritage and relationship to the cinema, a place of spoiled aristocrats and mad kings. It’s as if she whipped a meringue from 50 or 60 pages from a cinema history textbook.