There’s no inherent conflict between style and substance—for the best filmmakers, they’re inseparable—but one of the most stylistically advanced of current filmmakers, Sofia Coppola, fascinatingly, movingly, and ironically dramatizes her experience of such a conflict in her new film, “On the Rocks” (coming to Apple TV+ this Friday), which she wrote and directed. Here, she once again joins forces with Bill Murray (who, of course, starred, with Scarlett Johansson, in “Lost in Translation,” and was the center of attention in her divertissement “A Very Murray Christmas”)—and she does so with a surprising, bracing sense of skepticism. In the new film, even as Coppola distills and delivers the wry and rarefied delights of Murray’s style of performance and personal bearing, she wrestles with the very sources of her own sensibility and the roots of her own taste.
When they’re together, Felix dominates the conversation with what Laura calls “lots of theories and stories,” many of which have to do with sex and gender—his own glamorous romantic adventures and his speculations on the subject. Laura’s bangle bracelet sparks his historical reflection that women were formerly considered men’s property; his reflections on evolutionary theory yield his explanation of why adult men are attracted to adolescent women and why men are relentlessly domineering philanderers. He claims he’s going deaf—but only to women’s voices (and ascribes it to their pitch). He has also dominated Laura’s life as much by his absence as by his presence: when Laura was growing up, Felix left Laura’s mother (Alva Chinn) and the family for another woman. Felix is a serial philanderer, a relentless seducer who, even now, at around seventy, in Laura’s presence, flirts outrageously with young women, perfect strangers—a waitress, his granddaughters’ ballet teacher, one of Dean’s colleagues.