REVIEW: On the Rocks [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 96 minutes
    Release Date: October 23rd, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: A24 / Apple TV+
    Director(s): Sofia Coppola
    Writer(s): Sofia Coppola

It was heartbreaking … for everyone.

Before the first image of Sofia Coppola‘s On the Rocks arrives on-screen, we hear Felix’s (Bill Murray) voice to a teenaged Laura: “You’re mine until you get married. Then you’re still mine.” It’s the type of goofy sentiments Dads tell their daughters and we dismiss it as such when she replies with a sarcastic, “Okay.” The choice is a correct one too once we meet them in the present. Felix is an aging art dealer lothario for whom Laura (Rashida Jones) is his sole champion—besides the revolving door of women who find his charm (and money) attractive enough to look past his lifestyle. He’s a guy who regularly compares himself to animals and women to property.

He’s therefore easy to continue dismissing. So when Laura calls him for his insight as a man who cheated on his wife where it concerns her suspicion that her own husband (Marlon Wayans‘ Dean) is cheating on her, we also dismiss his enthusiasm to spare no expense in finding out what’s going on. Felix is lonely after all. That’s what his lifestyle truly provides above comfort, romance, or so-called freedom. It makes it so he has nobody to love him beyond the here and now. It’s why he’s so over-the-top when it comes to Laura. She’s never stopped being someone who cares despite all the pain he’s caused. More than trying to help, Felix’s ambition to play detective is an excuse to hangout with his last remaining friend.

Their escapades are entertaining as a result because they aren’t mired in the usual familial dynamic when two people on a stakeout vibes can provide so much more energy. Felix breaks into his usually self-important segues and anecdotes while Laura rolls her eyes and makes sure to tell any women in earshot (especially her young daughters) that they needn’t fawn over his every word. Where he only knows how to interact with women in ways that get them to like him and want to be liked by him, she’s ready to enlighten those caught in his trance that they can be the women they want to be instead. A bangle isn’t therefore given to denote ownership. It can simply be a fashion accessory one chooses to wear voluntarily.

This is where the film shines because it keeps him honest. Coppola lets Laura be the lead and retain control even when things seem to be spiraling fast. She judges him without necessarily punishing him. She holds him close enough for what she needs from him and far enough away to not let what he needs from her take over. And in many respects Felix is doing the same. Laura isn’t that much different from him when we take a step back and watch her loathe time with her mother’s family and bide time opposite other mothers at her children’s school (Jenny Slate is great in a bit role). She too is alone. She wonders if Dean is drifting away and whether or not it’s all her fault.

It’s not. Obviously. Maybe he’s having an affair with his accounts manager (Jessica Henwick‘s Fiona) or maybe he’s just really busy and stressed. She’s busy and stressed too as a full-time caregiver to their girls and novelist mired in writer’s block. Perhaps their schedules are overloaded, their fatigue levels overflowing, and their desire to give everything to their kids incompatible with leaving something extra for each other. It’s possible. And she might see it too if not for Felix horning his way in. Because as a man who refused to see those things as reasons for why the “light” Laura’s mom shone upon him dissipated, he will refuse to consider them now. Because he was too weak to control his libido, so too must every man on Earth.

This journey is thus at once a means to find what Laura wants out of her marriage and to discover what she wants out of her relationship with a father who up until this point has made it all about him. That Coppola deals in a higher society through Felix than the already high society of Laura and Dean’s life allows her to mock the former and supply the latter a “working class” mentality it couldn’t achieve on its own. Laura is always “under-dressed” for functions in both worlds. Felix’s privilege always gets him out of jambs he creates by embracing how that privilege shelters him from consequences. We laugh because he’s absurd and she’s endearing. The conversations born from those traits colliding are both entertaining and relatable.

But then come the watches. For two-thirds of On the Rocks, Laura is very much fighting against the sentiments heard at the start. So when Felix gives her his watch, we see it as a present—plain and simple. She’s always admired it and he’s giving it so the exchange becomes almost innocuous in its loving nature. And we don’t think about the “bangle” comment or the constant, predatory nonsense Felix spews because this moves beyond that façade to the deeper-seated bond they share as father and daughter. Until, that is, another watch appears to replace it. Suddenly this idea of “ownership” can no longer be ignored. Suddenly what seemed like Laura being independent is colored by the idea her choices have been orchestrated by these men.

I could be reading that wrong (I hope I am), but it lends what was a light, empowering tale of finding comfort in oneself to achieve personal calm amidst seeming chaos a very cynical air that takes some of the luster away. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, though, as both Jones and Murray (who delivers one of his best performances in a while) prove to be a delight to watch with a natural rapport that feeds into the similarities and differences inherent to their characters. The whole is funny, quietly subtle, and resonant in its ability to show people getting in over their heads and making problems worse by refusing to simply talk and avoid clandestine actions that will only exacerbate an already tense situation.

[1] (L-R) Bill Murray, Rashida Jones Photo Courtesy of Apple
[2] (L-R) Marlon Wayans, Rashida Jones Photo Courtesy of Apple
[3] (L-R) Jenny Slate, Rashida Jones Photo Courtesy of Apple

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