Dear Cinephiles,

“And remember don’t give your heart to any boys. You’re mine. until you get married. Then you’re still mine.”

Early in Sofia Coppola’s newest gift (and yes, I consider new films from my top five directors to be gifts) Felix, an irrepressible Bill Murray, is riding in a car with his daughter Laura, who is in her late thirties. He turns to his driver and tells him that she was named after the song. He starts singing the tune. “…the laugh that floats on a summer night…that you can never quite recall…” His crooning shifts to whistling. He turns to Laura and encourages her to join him. “I can’t whistle,” she protests. “I can’t anymore, it’s so weird, ever since I had kids.” He won’t listen to her excuses. “”No kid of mine is gonna stop whistling. We’re working on this, come on.” The film has exchanges like this that gently illustrate its central dynamic – a young woman trying to navigate a world in which she has been defined by a father and now family life.

Laura’s stuck. Like other Coppola leading characters, she’s filled with angst. She’s a successful writer but is encountering that dreaded and frustrating writer’s block in her home office. “I should have never sold a book before writing it,” she tells her agent. Her days are consumed getting one daughter ready for school and looking after another toddler while battling a sense of loneliness. Her husband Dean has been busy launching a new business and doing a lot of traveling – and Laura’s started to feel that they’re losing their intimacy and connection. When he returns from one trip and kisses her, she feels as if he were kissing someone else instead.

Laura starts to suspect that Dean may be having an affair with his attractive new business associate Fiona. She finds a female toiletry case in his luggage. At his birthday party at the office, she notices the new employees acting strange around her and sees Fiona putting her hand on her husband’s arm. She mistakenly confides all of this with daddy who is quick to tell her, “Sloppy move… raise your hands if that sounds fishy” and repeats “Check his phone! Check his phone!”

Now Felix completely takes over and soon enough is sleuthing after Dean’s comings and goings. Felix is a retired and extremely wealthy art dealer – and an unrepentant lothario who shamelessly flirts with every woman who crosses his path. “Can you ever just act normal in front of women?” Laura reproaches him. His marriage ended a while ago when he left Laura’s mother for a young painter.

The particular delight of the film is this father-daughter caper that takes us through New York City with stops at posh restaurants – including Club 21 and the Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel – where their conversations will reveal new layers with each martini. Theories and stories are revealed. “Monogamy and marriage are based on the concept of property,” he tells her. There’s one unforgettable chase through the streets of Manhattan in a red Alfa Romeo convertible filled with caviar and an exchange with the cops who pull them over. And then a stunning discussion between the two of them in front of a private collector’s painting of water lilies by Claude Monet.

Bill Murray is an utter delight in this. He seems so comfortable and loose working with Coppola, and she knows how to rein him in as well. There’s obviously a lot of ad-libbing and improvisation involved. He also has one moving moment of introspection towards the end of the film that is heartstopping. It’s fantastic the way the relationship between this director and the venerable comic brings out the best out of each other. Eventually Felix and Laura wind up in Mexico – and Murray is captured doing a lounge act by an oceanfront palapa that is both touching and hilarious.

Coppola layers these carefully observed moments so that they unexpectedly pack a punch when you get to the last morsel. I laughed out loud quite a few times, but then there’s a feeling of melancholy. She has a distinctive signature to her work. Working with cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd, the environment sheathing her characters is an important part of the story. I love the opening scene that plays out like a fairy tale – a dreamlike flashback to Laura and Dean’s wedding night. They descend on a spiral staircase foretelling Laura’s descent into her doubts and weariness. Coppola has always had a knack for using music quite expressively. This time around Chet Baker casts the spell.

Hers is quite a terrific world to get lost in. I love her.

Cocktail party guest: “Marriage is like a bank account. You make deposits for the first 20 or 30 years, and then after that you have all this interest built up, and you can start making withdrawals. And …don’t forget costumes.”

Love,
Roger

On the Rocks
Available to stream on Apple TV+

Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Bill Murray, Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans
96 minutes

Writer and Director Sofia Coppola on Bringing “On the Rocks” to the Screen
Written in the divisiveness of America circa 2019, it finds Coppola confronting personal issues with her first stab at unbridled escapism. “I was in the mood for something fun and uplifting for these days that wasn’t going to be stressful or challenging,” she said. “The question was how to do that in my style.” “On the Rocks,” in which Jones plays a successful New York writer struggling to juggle family life with her creative ambition, may be the closest the filmmaker has come to putting her own anxieties onscreen. “I was thinking about living in New York, having young kids, looking at the world around me, how I could reflect that moment of getting your bearings,” she said. “There’s a bit of an identity crisis — how do I connect with who I was before all that and still work?” For the Jones character, that comes from rekindling a relationship with her father; for Coppola, it came from Murray, with whom she experienced one of the finest actor-director pairings of this young century. Although they reunited five years ago for the Netflix special “A Very Murray Christmas,” that hour-long musical romp was more of a meta experiment for Murray than a bonafide Murray-Coppola collaboration, though it did allow the filmmaker to witness how well he gelled onscreen with Jones, who had a small part. Coppola wrote the role with the actress in mind, basing the story in part on a friend’s account of spying on her playboy father; from there, getting Murray involved was a no-brainer. “It always helped me in writing imagining what he can bring to it and it’s always a surprise on set what he brings,” she said. “I was always worried to work together again because I don’t want to disappoint people who loved him in ‘Lost in Translation.’” …Coppola recalled the process of searching for the essence of Murray’s talent while ensuring he had enough room for his own self-discovery, what she called “his Bill-ness.” It was her first script to contain lengthy pages of dialogue, but she didn’t force him to follow every word. “I had a lot of fun inventing the character,” she said. “Once you put him in the costumes and he read it, he just came in and knew what to do.” Murray, who has five children of his own, brings a visible investment to the part that has been hard to see in much of his looser, winking turns in recent years. “I don’t think I’ve seen him play a father before,” Coppola said. “He’s such a treasure that I felt like I just wanted to be able to capture a little Bill, and I think we all need it right now.” (indiewire.com)

Rashida Jones and Sofia Coppola on “On the Rocks”
“When you’re writing something personal or original material, I always draw on my life, and it’s a way to figure things out,” said Coppola. “I started working on [this script] a while ago when my kids were little — just that moment of trying to find my way as a creative working person … navigating a new moment in my life.” Jones and Coppola met nearly 20 years ago when Jones read what would become Scarlett Johansson’s role in “Lost in Translation” during an extended workshop of the script. Their paths crossed socially over the years, and Jones appeared briefly alongside Murray in the Coppola-directed 2015 holiday special “A Very Murray Christmas.” The two have more than a few things in common. Coppola is the daughter of a famous filmmaker and has two children with her husband, Thomas Mars, of the band Phoenix. Jones is the daughter of musician Quincy Jones and has a child with Ezra Koenig of the band Vampire Weekend. “I feel like we have things in common just about stages of life,” said Jones. “The conversations that we’ve had as friends about processing certain moments in life, and the era of being a woman of a certain age who has a family on both sides, both generations, and kind of juggling identity relative to other people. “Once you’ve gotten to a certain point in your career and you actually have these things that are seemingly wonderful surrounding you — what’s your true purpose and how is that unique to you and not connected to all the people that surround you all the time? I think it’s something that a lot of people grapple with, and certainly women.”

“The themes we’re talking about are important to me and deep, and then I was trying to do it in a kind of light, fun way,” said Coppola. “I wanted to do like a father-daughter buddy movie with martinis discussing life and relationships. And I was missing that kind of smart, sophisticated comedy that I grew up with and trying to embrace something a little sillier than my usual realm of what I know how to do. It’s sort of out of my comfort zone.” Even after collaborating with Murray on “A Very Murray Christmas,” Coppola had long been anxious about reuniting for a film, for fear of somehow tarnishing the affection toward “Lost in Translation.” “I needed to just get over it,” said Coppola. “I had to put my worries aside.” When Coppola cast Murray in “Lost in Translation,” it took a year to pursue and persuade him to do the part, and she still wasn’t entirely sure he was going to turn up to the first day of shooting. This time, it was a little easier getting him to commit. “He’s still a man of mystery, but now he’s someone that’s a friend and I know I can count on,” said Coppola. “And I think Rashida was a big draw to get him to show up. Although he was a little disappointed that he had to play her dad and not her leading man.”

For Jones, “On the Rocks” marks only her second leading role in a film. Her first, 2012’s “Celeste & Jesse Forever,” was one she had to write for herself. It was meaningful to her to see a Black family at the center of the picture and to have her character have biracial parents, as she does. (Former model Alva Chinn plays her mother in the movie.) “We talked about it a lot — because my family is so blended, I wanted it to feel like my family and also I’m aware of the fact that representation is important,” Jones said. “That’s not something that’s lost on me. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a lot of say as to how I was portrayed, what my family looked like. “And it was important to me to have a Black family. We had a lot of discussions about what that meant,” Jones said. “We wanted to build a real family and a real relationship that felt like it could exist right now in a way that felt complex and complicated, but you know that they love each other. And that, to me, is part of filling in the spectrum of representation. It doesn’t always have to look exactly the same to be Black on-screen.” (latimes.com)

The Relationship and Connection Between Rashida Jones and Sofia Coppola
Coppola says the themes of parenthood and identity that the film explores were inspired in part by her own experience of trying to reacclimate herself with the rhythm of working after having her children. “I was thinking about the men of my father’s generation and the women of my generation, and the clash of how we were raised. And looking at the moment when I started to think about having young kids and trying to get back to work, and the identity crisis you go through in that transition.” Jones related. “Women of a certain generation have been sold a little bit of a lie that they can have it all, and I bought into that,” she says. “There’s a malaise and a difficulty understanding who she is in her own life,” she explains of her character. “What is she here for, who does she live for, what does she wake up for? And where does her self-esteem come from? I think a lot of women struggle with that.” Jones and Coppola met in the early 2000s, when the director was workshopping her 2003 film, Lost in Translation, with an acting class, with Jones reading what would become Scarlett Johansson’s role. When Coppola directed Jones and Murray in A Very Murray Christmas in 2015, she noticed their chemistry. “For On the Rocks, Rashida has to be the straight man, which is harder,” Coppola says. “We know her from broader comedic roles, and she has a thoughtful, deep side that we haven’t really seen in films. And it was a big help to me that she understood that dynamic of having a bigger-than-life father.”

The outsize legacies of Jones’s and Coppola’s fathers—legendary producer Quincy Jones and director Francis Ford Coppola, respectively—is something they have in common. “My dad is a lover of life and music and people and women,” says Jones, who co-wrote and -directed a 2018 documentary about her father, Quincy. “And he was born in 1933,” she adds bluntly. “I try not to do too much correcting because he’s so sweet and he loves life and ladies, so, yes, there is that side of him. But I also feel protective of him because I know his heart and his intention. At a time when intention and context seem to be taking the backest back seat, I think it’s an interesting thing to explore in the movie. What do you do with this entire generation that’s never going to come around to understanding identity politics in the way that people are understanding them now?” “On the Rocks” also pulls apart the facets of being a parent, a daughter, and a wife—a maze of obligations that crystallized for Jones when she started her own family. “It took me a long time to separate my identity from my parents. It didn’t really happen to me until my 30s, because I love them so much, they’re so cool, and I didn’t want to be separate from them. But there’s a natural order where you absolutely have to do that to be a person in the world—and really to be a parent. It’s biological: I have to protect this thing that I created,” she continues. “As protective as I feel about my parents, I have to let go of that for them so I can have it for myself.” (harpersbazaar.com)

Editor Sarah Flack on Felix’s Introduction in “On the Rocks”
Editor Sarah Flack and costume designer Stacey Battat helped director Sofia Coppola give Bill Murray the entrance he deserves in “On the Rocks,” his first film with Coppola since 2003’s “Lost in Translation.”…When we’re about to first encounter Felix, Laura is standing on a fairly empty Wooster Street in Manhattan as Michael Nyman’s “In Re Don Giovanni” plays. A black Mercedes with tinted glass pulls up, and the window slowly rolls down. “That music cue was [precisely] timed so that when the music ends, he’s revealed,” Flack says. A frequent collaborator of Coppola’s since “Lost,” Flack found the sequence easy to cut because she had been brought in from day one. Coppola had also scripted the music cue. “Sofia had always planned for this music to be part of the section early in the movie, which illustrates Laura’s daily routine as she goes to meet her dad for lunch,” the editor says. The initial cut took Flack a few hours, including the music edits, with the sustained final chord of Nyman’s song to coincide with the window coming down to reveal Felix. But she and Coppola continued to work on the scene, making slight adjustments. “I can’t tell you how long it took me to edit in the end because it was always evolving, and the music edits changed along the way whenever we adjusted that montage.” In the back of her mind, Flack was thinking about Rita Hayworth’s entrance in the 1946 film “Gilda.” “I was always joking with Sofia about that moment where [Gilda] flips her hair back and you see her face for the first time,” she recalls. Costume designer Stacey Battat wanted Felix to exude a worldly and sophisticated charm in his initial scene. He travels around the city in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes, almost kinglike — the polar opposite of Laura. “When we see him, we know about him right away because most New Yorkers don’t have drivers and Felix is always dressed up,” Battat says. The light blue seersucker suit he’s wearing when we finally see him was purchased off the rack from Brooks Brothers but was sleek enough to play into the notion that here was a man who had his clothes tailored. “That suit reflected this larger-than-life character. It was a tailored and fitted look that elevated him. He could be someone who easily had his shirts monogrammed,” Battat explains. The scarves he wears to accentuate his wardrobe with a pinch of chic were scripted by Coppola. “Making Bill look good for this and turning him into this irresistible character,” laughs Battat, “was one of my greatest pleasures.

Filming “On the Rocks”
“Around halfway through her new comedy, the writer-director does something she’s never attempted before…over a scene that sees stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones careening through the streets of New York City in a red vintage Alfa Romeo convertible. It’s a remarkably kinetic scene for a director best known for telling poignant stories through silent gestures, and Coppola tells EW it was a personal feat in itself for her as a filmmaker.” “It’s really hard to shoot in cars, and after other movies where I shot inside cars, I was like, I’m never going to do it again, I know better than to do that! But, I couldn’t help it,” Coppola says of composing the film, about a writer, Laura (Jones), who enlists the help of her playboy father, Felix (Murray), to tail her corporate-minded husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), whom she suspects of having an affair. The scene in tracks Laura and Felix’s high-speed, secretive pursuit after Dean leaves a bar with a group of coworkers, with both cars careening through red lights, past Manhattan landmarks — and, while dialogue scenes utilized a rig, that’s all Murray indulging his need for speed in the free-wheeling shots. “It was a nightmare to shoot. Poor Bill and Rashida were out all night in a car,” Coppola jokes. “It’s funny because I kept [calling it] ‘our action sequence,’ and my brother, Roman, came in to help shoot it, and he’s like, ‘That’s barely an action sequence!’ But, for me, I kept thinking of it as the car chase scene! It’s the most action I’ve ever done. We shot all night, we only had one night, and it was crazy. Thank God Bill is a good driver, and Rashida was a really brave, good sport about it!” As wild as the shoot got, the Oscar-winning Lost in Translation helmer still finds a way to ground the moment in her signature, subtle thematics: “I just thought it was very Felix to pick the most indiscreet car. I thought he might race an old, impractical car on the weekend. It’s the embodiment of his spirit!” she explains. “[These moments in the car] a little cocoon to all the hustle and bustle of the city, to be in his little world driving around the streets of New York.” (ew.com)

About Writer and Director Sofia Coppola
Coppola is the daughter of film director Francis Ford Coppola and artist and documentary filmmaker Eleanor Coppola. Sofia was born in New York City while her father was filming The Godfather. She grew up in northern California and played small parts in her father’s films, often under the stage name “Domino Coppola.” Her first (and last) significant role was as Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary in the third “Godfather” movie…in the early 1990s she briefly studied painting at California Institute of the Arts and dabbled in modeling, photography, and fashion design. In 1994 she co-launched a fashion line in Japan called Milk Fed. It was in the late 1990s that she created her first films, two shorts: “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” (1996) and “Lick the Star” (1998). In 1999 her first feature film, “The Virgin Suicides, was released.” Coppola herself wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides…Coppola’s next feature, “Lost in Translation” (2003)—which she wrote, directed, and produced—earned her an Academy Award for best original screenplay, a nomination for best picture, and a historic nomination for best director…

“Lost in Translation” was followed by… “Marie Antoinette” (2006), adapted from Antonia Fraser’s revisionist and compassionate biography, “Marie Antoinette: The Journey” (2001). Set in lavish interiors and with elaborate costuming and a strikingly anachronistic 1980s soundtrack, Coppola’s film portrayed the young 18th-century queen-to-be from a fresh, personal—rather than the standard historical—perspective…Coppola returned to the fashion world in 2008 to design a line of leather handbags for the Louis Vuitton fashion house…In 2010 she released the film “Somewhere,” which won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion prize for best film, and in 2013 she released “The Bling Ring.” In May 2016 she staged her first opera, Giuseppe Verdi’s “La traviata,” in collaboration with fashion designer Valentino at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. In 2017 Coppola became the second woman to win the best director award at the Cannes film festival. She was honoured for her work in The Beguiled, a Civil War thriller about a wounded Union soldier who is taken in by the women at a Southern boarding school. In addition to helming the film, she wrote the script, which was adapted from a novel by Thomas Cullinan. Coppola then re-teamed with Murray—this time, on the dramedy On the Rocks, about a young mother who, fearing that her husband is having an affair, seeks the help of her playboy father. (britannica.com)