REVIEW: On the Rocks (2020)

Film Poster
Release Poster – Apple TV+ / A24.

Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation) — Available on Apple TV+.

As most people know, Sofia Coppola is Hollywood royalty. She made appearances in many of her father’s films, before a less-than-stellar supporting performance in The Godfather Part III led to scathing reviews and, not long thereafter, her acting career was over. But Sofia Coppola is not just Hollywood royalty, she is also a terrific filmmaker. Over the years, she has managed to reinvent herself as a great director and for her second film as a director, 2003’s Lost in Translation, Coppola was allegedly inspired by her own relationship with her ex-husband and filmmaker Spike Jonze (Her). Since Lost in Translation, which I think is a beautiful film (as well as her best), it has been difficult not to look at her films as being directly inspired by her own experiences. When I watched On the Rocks, which, like Lost In Translation, features Bill Murray, I started to think about her relationship with both her father and middle-age.

Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks follows Laura Keane (played by Rashida Jones) a mother and struggling novelist who lives with her husband, Dean (played by Marlon Wayans), in New York City. Laura spends her days dropping her kids off at school and, at her office, postponing the act of writing her next novel. Laura is stuck in a rut. However, she will soon have something else entirely to worry about. Because when her husband returns from a business trip, Laura finds another woman’s toiletry bag in his luggage. When Laura tells her philandering father, Felix (played by Bill Murray), he immediately suspects that his son-in-law is cheating on his daughter. Now Felix and Laura must get to bottom of things and figure out if Dean is actually hiding something or not.

I think of Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks almost as a middle-aged coming-of-age film, so to speak. In my mind, it is a film about accepting your lot in life, the speed at which middle-age goes compared to the excitement of your younger years, and how a parent can have a power over you that is detrimental to your marriage. Throughout the film, there is a running theme involving bracelets and watches, which, at least according to Murray’s character, symbolize how others control or own you. This theme of ownership and control is clear and present from the film’s first lines to its last scenes. I thought this was a well-articulated and well-executed theme that really made the movie what it was, and I am curious about whether or not this feeling of ownership has been a problem in Sofia Coppola’s life. In any case, like Laura in the film, Sofia Coppola’s father is, in a way, a larger-than-life figure.

Bill Murray is excellent. While it is certainly not a career-best performance, Murray made the film the relative success that I think it is. The film would, frankly, not have been the same without him. I had to stop myself from saying “I love Bill Murray,” more than a dozen times while I was watching the film. Murray is an all-timer, and perhaps he should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lost in Translation. Murray lost out to Sean Penn back in the day, and, even though I don’t think his performance in On the Rocks is as memorable as his turn in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 hit, I would love it if Murray was honored with at least a nomination for his delightful and charming but old-fashioned performance in Sofia Coppola’s latest film. In the film’s best sequence, he and Rashida Jones’ character race through New York City in a vintage red car.

I have to say that I didn’t really connect with Jones and Wayans’ characters or their marriage. I think the film would’ve worked better if the film had worked harder to build a relationship that you genuinely care about. Because when you don’t really connect with them, then you end up cheering for the wrong thing, essentially. Generally, I also think it’s frustrating how the film ends. I will say, though, that I thought Coppola used Jenny Slate’s one-note character very well, and that Slate was absolutely perfect in the role.

If the central relationship had been built up more or a little bit better, then the film might’ve felt more consequential. Instead, On the Rocks is just an alright coming-of-middle-age-film that is elevated immensely by an undeniably charming performance from Bill Murray.

7.5 out of 10

Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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