On the Rocks (2020)

On the Rocks (2020) Cover

Sofia Coppola's latest film, in which she reunites with the beloved Bill Murray, On the Rocks, relies too heavily on a single idea. While not exactly bad, it is hard for me recommend whole heartedly. Both slow and dry, On the Rocks relies on the relatability of the story to pull in the viewer and that story is built entirely on the way the toxic behaviors of our parents color our worldview.

Feeling lost in a rut with her husband, Laura (played by Rashida Jones) wrestles with fears for her relationship and even for the fidelity in her relationship. As the circumstances with her marriage grow increasinly suspect, Laura's father, Felix (portrayed by Bill Murray), leans into her suspicions and takes her out on adventures to spy on her partner. The plot is incredibly straightforward and builds its tension on Laura's relationship with Felix, whose mysogyny has cast a shadow across her life from childhood.

The way the damage from our parents affects our ability to connect with others is powerful and important. Unfortunately, it just doesn't feel very well addressed here. Sofia's structure depends too much on the charisma of Bill Murray to carry a subject that's just too heavy to put on the weight of one character. It's not even that Rashida Jones doesn't pull her weight. Reshida is excellent and brilliantly captures what it feels like to be trapped in another person's failures without being able to know when something is wrong or when something is wrong with you. That's a terrible feeling and well worth exploring. But the structure of the film explores it by having her constantly around her father, putting just too much evidence of betrayal in her view to dismiss easily. There's a failure to show how her damage affects her and that's really because all the focus of the film is on Murray.

It's strange how the film itself seems to suffer from the same inability to look away from this destructive father figure that the character of Laura experiences. While that may seem like a clever layering, it works to the detriment of the story. Similar to real life, you very much need to step back and get a larger perspective to get a sense for what's wrong, and Sofia never pulls that off.

The acting is outstanding. I love Murray, though I will say that the level of mysogyny for his character was distracting. I wish that Felix had been a little more evenly written. Reshida Jones ties everything together as well as she possibly can, she is excellent in the lead role and she honestly does more than most could in compensating for the failure of the narrative. I was surprised by the wonderfully nuanced cameo from Marlon Wayans who plays Laura's husband. It was fun to see him after what feels like a bit of a hiatus.

On the Rocks isn't bad. It's just lacking. And that's felt even stronger given that the subject has been well explored by some great creators such as Ari Aster in the fantastic Horror Hereditary. If you love the actors or the previous work of Sofia, On the Rocks may be worth a shot for you, but in general, I would find it hard to recommend to anyone who doesn't have a taste for dry narrative lacking in depth or complexity.

Final Verdict:Smart, but not as smart as it wishes it were.