Rashida Jones stars as a writer struggling with writer’s block and the possibility of infidelity, with Bill Murray co-starring as her promiscuous father who offers his help in Sofia Coppola’s latest.
The best way I can think of describing the tone and overall feel of On the Rocks is its title. It’s a bit breezy in its pacing, a bit boozy, and a bit rocky. While that might not seem like a film one would sign up to watch on a Friday night, Sofia Coppola makes it her own by offering her perspective on marriage through Laura (Rashida Jones) and uses what could be her own father’s perspective or something she’s experienced through a father figure through Felix (Bill Murray). The two interestingly bounce off each other with their two different personalities, which Murray uses to his advantage, being the most Bill Murray he’s been in quite some time. Along with that perspective exists a love letter for the Manhattan borough that seems almost old-fashioned.
On that point, I feel as though you could make a case for this being a spiritual sequel to Lost in Translation. After all, Coppola has come out and said she wanted to cast Rashida Jones as Charlotte in the interviews for On the Rocks, that film was a love letter of sorts to Tokyo, and featured Bill Murray finding love in a foreign space which could be considered the yin to this film’s yang.
No matter what way you want to contextualize On the Rocks, Sophia Coppolla has put together a cast that I think are doing things generally outside of their range. Yes, Bill Murray is very funny, but Coppola balances his humor with these solemn moments that ask a lot of an actor primarily known for being the funniest guy in the room. Coppola is asking a similar thing of Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans. Instead of being their natural funny selves, Coppola asks them to go all-in with the dramatic moments, and it works due to Coppola’s direction.
Being as vague as possible, Coppola creates this sense of palpable tension early on to cast doubts in Laura’s (and the viewer’s) mind that maybe something’s going on with Dean. Early on, she creates this initial discomfort through the use of body language. When Laura is dropping off her daughter, Maya, at school, she almost looks zombie-like as she listens to the stories of another mother (Jenny Slate) give the deets on an affair that started during Hurricane Sunday.
In a moment of insecurity, Laura calls her dad and tells him everything that’s been going on with Dean, who guesses that Dean is indeed having an affair on the hunch that no man can be married to just one woman.
This hunch seems solid at first. After all, he’s traveled around the globe, collecting art, and seemingly has learned from those cultures. However, as we quickly learn, Felix is a man whose ideals are stuck in the times he was raised in (probably the 1940s).
These views are highlighted in moments throughout, but the moment it sets in is after he teaches his granddaughters to play poker and tells them that “girls should wear their hair long and pretty, that’s how boys like it.” Later on, he says “I can hear everything fine except women’s voices. I think it’s the pitch.”
Likewise, Felix’s sleuthing moves are fairly basic like checking credit card statements and GPS tracking. When that turns out to be a dead-end, Felix tells Laura that it’s time to tail Dean.
In this scene, On the Rocks showcases its roots in the Hollywood comedic mysteries of Felix’s time. His idea of a good tail car is one that is as flashy as it is loud, and to grab some caviar and binoculars.
What keeps the film from turning on auto-pilot is the feeling that Coppola is specifically calling out how ridiculous the idea is. She balances this rejection with the feeling that Felix is unbound by the world’s rules.
On the Rocks goes from this to a full-blown detective movie when Dean goes on yet another business trip and Felix gets the bright idea that it’s time for a vacation.
In her writing, Coppola is able to question the trope of men’s infidelity, and the work wives do to make sure no one sees behind the curtain. These ponderings are often discussed amongst Manhattan’s fanciest bars, clubs, and restaurants that Felix frequents, where the waiters know him by name. Inevitably, he runs into someone (Kelly Lynch) who might just be interested in selling a famous painting that Coppola implies as a former girlfriend of Felix’s, and it becomes quite clear that he’s important to both New York and the art community.
Philippe Le Sourd’s camerawork lingers on the environments with childlike splendor that lends the film a dreamlike quality. Likewise, Sarah Flack’s editing feels like a celebration of New York’s finest establishments and the city itself.
The music plays a big part in the film. Much of the soundtrack is comprised of this mix of jazz, pop, and synthwave. The soundtrack lulls us into a sense of security and the feeling to go with our gut.
If you’re in the mood for a film that showcases what happens when you go with your gut, On the Rocks is certainly one I would recommend in a heartbeat.
On the Rocks is now available to stream on Apple TV+