Like Coppola’s underrated Somewhere, On the Rocks is really a father-daughter story. The film begins with a voiceover from Murray over a black screen. Felix says to Laura as a child: “Remember, don’t give your heart to any boys. You’re mine until you get married,” adding after a perfect millisecond’s pause, “Then you’re still mine.” Coppola’s screenplay gives us Laura’s daughter’s-eye view. She is clear-sighted about Felix’s flaws and also about how loving he is. He will do anything for her, and never hints that her possibly crumbling marriage might be even a little bit her fault. The film’s trajectory follows her as she learns to stop being Daddy’s Little Girl and to deal with him as an adult; in one scene, Jones and Murray bring a piercing, painful honesty to an argument between them. The film’s ending is easy to see from the beginning, but plot has never seemed to interest Coppola much, so that weakness hardly matters.
Throughout a dazzling career, Coppola’s style has varied, from the colourful exuberance of Marie Antoinette, to the Southern Gothic The Beguiled. On the Rocks feels more personal. Her own father, of course, is Francis Ford Coppola, which is relevant because she has said in interviews that the film was partly inspired by his generation of men and their outmoded attitudes toward women. And her unlikely childhood, living for a time in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York while her father made movies, echoes through her films in various fictional forms. In Somewhere, Elle Fanning’s character stays with her father in an elegant hotel. In the delightful Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas, Murray plays a version of himself giving a show in a New York nightclub, the kind of cafe-society setting that was part of Sofia Coppola’s reality.
There is a similar retro tinge to On the Rocks, which looks like a glorious movie version of New York, and whose characters don’t bother to acknowledge how privileged and hermetic their world is. Felix’s profession gives Coppola an excuse to litter the background with paintings by artists like Cy Twombly and even Monet (loaned, the credits say, from a private collection). After a cocktail party with Felix in one of those art-filled apartments, Laura walks alone down Fifth Avenue, past lights shining from windows of luxury stores. Circles of headlights from traffic behind her resemble an abstract painting. It is a beautiful, wistful scene. As Laura walks maskless on those Manhattan streets, On the Rocks carries a whiff of unintended nostalgia for the glamorous, soigné New York of 2019.
On the Rocks is on limited theatrical release from 2 October, and streaming on Apple TV + from 23 October.
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