Sofia Coppola’s voice is genuine and singular– or, rather, it was. This film is a thinly-layered story with little motion, and so offers a lot of room for nuance. It is often horribly misogynistic, and some sequences are down-right problematic, but for the trained eye, On the Rocks is a heartwarming riot of a movie. Here’s a brief recap:
Laura, a novelist in the middle of a horrible block, is worried that her husband, Dean, is cheating on her with his tall, attractive assistant, Fiona. Busy watching after the children, she calls on her father for advice. An aging playboy and art collector, he offers little to console her and encourages her to monitor him closer.
With more and more evidence racking up, and her father putting resources into spying on the man, they decide to follow Dean on a business trip to Mexico. No strides are really made in healing Laura and her fathers’ relationship (he having cheated on Laura’s mother). They track down Dean’s room, and are about to confront him when Laura learns that he left early and is on the way home.
Dean and Laura work it out, and it turns out he was never cheating on her. Laura’s writing block lifts, and she has a new lease on her happy family life in Manhattan, making no actual progress with her father by the credits.
Even though it isn’t a wholly fulfilling movie, the story begins and ends right where it needs to. Each character has such a clear focus, and the main character’s lack of ambition makes her an almost Shakespearean figure. Laura is consistently combatting her own level-headedness, and the real villain– no matter how funny and charming– is her father. He is a fountain of privilege, and the antithesis of everything he requires his son in law to be. The thing that keeps this film from really being a problem is that Dean’s focus isn’t being misinterpreted. He’s actually a bad husband for most of the film.
The scene where Laura and her father are pulled over is troublesome, however. It is difficult to tell whether the white privilege we see is meant to be celebrated in the context of the scene or not, but it speaks loudly to the corruption shown in the world today, and I only hope Coppola is vilifying that display. Atrocities aside– and despite the relatively inactive story– the writing is quite good.
While there is an art to a subdued palette, it is hard to excuse this film’s colour from being completely flat. There are a few sequences that have some really beautiful imagery, and some of the portrait shots are interesting and unique, but I’m not impressed with Phillippe le Sourd’s cinematography (and haven’t been since The Grandmaster).
Of course, Bill Murray is a joy to see on camera, though his extremely dated attitude towards the opposite sex amounts to a large portion of his character. The charm he adds to each line and every motion will steal the whole of your attention. Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans are terrific, and the relationship is entirely believable.
While it might not stand on the risers with Coppola’s former films like Lost in Translation, this film is worth every minute. The atmosphere is comfortable and the drama is more than enough to make On the Rocks a memorable experience. I give this movie a 4 out of 5.