Coppola previews her first pseudo screwball comedy: A New York caper inspired by classic Hollywood, coming in October.

By Joey Nolfi
August 13, 2020 at 12:00 PM EDT
Advertisement
Courtesy of A24 and Apple

On the Rocks

type
  • Movie
genre

Across two decades as a filmmaker, Sofia Coppola has taken audiences on journeys of the heart and mind through exotic locales, having followed listless strangers through Tokyo in the Bill Murray Oscar vehicle Lost in Translation, mined the soul of a misunderstood French royal in Marie-Antoinette, and morphed the Civil War south into a gloomy backdrop for a tense gothic thriller in The Beguiled. Now, opening a new chapter of her career, Coppola is having a full-circle moment as she reunites with Murray and longtime friend Rashida Jones for a lighthearted comedy that travels closer to home than the 49-year-old's camera has gone before.

On the Rocks — Coppola's eighth feature film, coming to theaters and Apple TV+ this October via A24 and Apple Original Films — began life as a romantic comedy simmering in its maker's brain, as the writer-director wanted to challenge herself to create a lighthearted tale in uncharted genre territory. But a conversation with a close friend who suspected her husband of having an affair and promptly spied on his every move ("She was hiding in the bushes!" Coppola remembers), however, shifted Coppola's focus. At a crossroads in her own life after having the birth of her kids, she then funneled her own anxieties regarding (and fascination with) personal and creative rebirth, the complexities of an aging marriage, and gender-based generational clashes into a pseudo screwball, "odd couple, buddy movie" caper boasting the mirth of Hollywood classics blended with Coppola's signature melancholy — all unfolding atop the vibrant streets of New York City.

JoJo Whilden/A24/Apple

"I wanted to do something that was a little bit lighter and more playful with a lot of heart and sincerity," Coppola tells EW of the father-daughter romp, which follows Jones as Laura, a seemingly grounded, happily married writer and mother who spirals into an identity crisis after growing suspicious of her husband's (Marlon Wayans) bond with a new co-worker. She later joins her cocktail-sipping, art-dealing, wealthy playboy father, Felix (Murray), to tail her man for clues around his various Manhattan haunts. As the pair gallivants from swanky uptown hotspots (like Club 21, where Coppola shot her leading duo at the same table once reserved for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) to chic downtown hangouts, the thrill of the pursuit fades to the background as their conflicting generational perspectives envelop the adventure, forcing them to reconsider their respective takes on life and love.

"Felix is an old-world gentleman used to talking over martinis. The way he looks at women and relationships, he’s giving advice from his perspective, which is different from how Laura's husband is, and she’s trying to see it from his view. It’s [juxtaposing] that perspective of the martini generation and how they look at men and women in a different way than we do," Coppola explains, adding that most of the film's delicately peppered, "sophisticated comedy" (inspired by Tootsie and The Thin Man) arises from playing Murray's smooth-operating charisma against and Jones as the straight guy of the family. "Felix swoops in, and Laura is vulnerable, so she’s more susceptible to the paranoia he plays upon. He gets her swept up in his perspective and takes her on this adventure."

Courtesy of A24 and Apple

For Coppola, the uphill trek toward making the film began by overcoming a mound of her own apprehensions, as she, like Laura, faced a mild life crisis after sifting out how to balance her successful film career with her private life with husband Thomas Mars and their two daughters. A conversation with the late filmmaker Buck Henry led her to break out of her creative comforts for the film, with the Graduate writer challenging her to find the characters' voices through dialogue. The result is a picture that perhaps "talks" more so than any of Coppola's prior films.

"Because so much of the story is the two of them spending time together and an exchange, that’s where the humor comes from: Felix's [spoken] perspective and her being a modern woman from a more traditional perspective," states Coppola.

Still, despite the "fun" challenges the movie posed, at one point in On the Rocks' gestation, Coppola nearly bowed to pressure to top her previous work with Murray, as Lost in Translation has frequently been cited as a modern masterpiece after Coppola won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2004.

"I never thought I could do something with Bill again, because people have such a fondness of him and Lost in Translation. I could never recreate something like that, so I never wanted to touch it," she observes (though the pair did reunite for the Emmy-nominated Netflix holiday special A Very Murray Christmas, co-starring Jones, in 2015). "But, all this time has passed, and I loved working with him and I love seeing him in film. We haven’t really seen him as this debonair, playboy father at this stage [of life], so I just had to get over it because now we’re in a different phase [of life]."

Having written the script with Murray in mind, Coppola says she also infused Felix with bits of inspiration from her real-life father, The Godfather helmer Francis Ford Coppola, to compliment the film's existing themes that related closely to her own personal growth, noting that she translated "moments with my dad and the men of his generation" into the script. "Being in a relationship, you look at how you’re affected by the way you were raised or what you heard growing up, so I was thinking about all those aspects and how to put my personal feelings and what I was experiencing into a hopefully fun story blending what I was thinking about and the roles you’re juggling at that point in life."

In Jones, whom she first met while workshopping the Lost in Translation script nearly two decades ago (in an acting class that did a read-through of the unfinished screenplay, Jones played the female lead that would eventually go to Scarlett Johansson), Coppola says she found a "lovable, smart, and strong" alter-ego of sorts to play Laura as a dramatized extension of herself. She also connected with Jones' ability to identify with the experience of — as the daughter of music mastermind Quincy Jones — growing up with a larger-than-life dad.

"Sofia has a quiet power and elegance that I have been in awe of since the first time we met," Jones adds via email. "I had a lot in common with the character [of Charlotte in Lost in Translation] at the time, struggling with my identity and loneliness in a relationship. It was such a formative acting experience for me to dig into a character that deeply. Sofia and I have had a lot of parallel emotional milestones and On the Rocks represents that, too."

JoJo Whilden/A24/Apple

And, fitting with Coppola's penchant for drinking up eclectic environments like Tokyo, Los Angeles, Versailles, and moreover her growing filmography, the city of New York is, for the first time in one of her films, a leading character of its own in On the Rocks, but this time as a snapshot of the bygone bustle of the metropolis Coppola calls home.

"We’re lucky we got to shoot in New York before it closed down [amid the coronavirus pandemic]," Coppola says of filming the project throughout the summer of 2019. "I hope it’s fun for people to see Laura and Felix at restaurants and around the city, how we remember and love New York."

"Now it feels like a period movie," she finishes in a charming tone that, like Coppola's best work, is tinged with woe, longing, and a calm, knowing nod to the absurdity of the chaos — whether physical or emotional — around her.

On the Rocks is in theaters and Apple TV+ in October. Check out EW's exclusive images above.

Related content: 

On the Rocks

type
  • Movie
genre
mpaa
director
  • Sofia Coppola

Comments