I’m not overly familiar with the works of Sofia Coppola. Her reputation as a filmmaker precedes her though. Famously, she starred in the most infamously panned films role in The Godfather Part 3 and then turned her reputation around with her critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation. Since then, She has worked on numerous independent film projects and co-managed her father Francis Coppola’s companies.
I haven’t seen any of her recent films like Marie Antoinette, Bling Ring and the remake of The Beguiled. I haven’t been interested mostly because her reputation as a director precedes her and I was never inclined to give her work much of a chance. Lo and behold, her newest film is one of the only new films opening this month in Chicago…
So, I finally bit the bullet and watched a Sofia Coppola film…
Admittedly it wasn’t a hard sell. The movie was being marketed as a wacky Billy Murray movie and that’s hard to pass up outside of his obvious work-for-hire films.
To my surprise, the film was a great deal more enjoyable than I expected. Initially the appeal of the film seemed rooted in its wacky performance by Billy Murray but his role is relegated to a critically supporting acting role for Rashida Jone’s character.
The film follows the marriage and lives of Laura and Dean. The two are a highly cosmopolitan progressive couple (they literally have bumpers for Bernie Sanders and Stacy Abrams on their door) living in New York City and facing a brief period of marital struggles. Laura starts feeling deeply inadequate as a wife and woman as she struggles to do her day job as a fiction writer while her highly successful husband is galavanting around the world on business trips and working with young women.
On the Rocks is a film about Middle Age anxiety and relationship troubles. This is explored on multiple levels as Laura’s fear that her husband might be cheating starts to manifest in allowing her eccentric father Felix to start pulling strings and investigating Dean’s life for evidence. As a result of her fears, she takes a drastic and funny journey across New York City and the greater continental United States to learn the truth with the help of her father.
Despite not being the central focus on the film, Felix is an absolute laugh riot as a character. He’s an elderly playboy who flirts with every woman he sees. He’s a former eccentric art gallery owner and a playboy with connections to almost everyone you could think of and likes to philosophize about the evolutionary roots of male sexuality and the Pagan roots of birthday parties. At the end of the day, you know he’s a man exactly smart enough to help intellectually defend his own libertinism.
Felix’s role within the film doubles as a foil for Laura’s anxiety and a third wheel in her adult life who stirs her anxieties and goes through massive amounts of effort to try and prove Dean MIGHT be cheating. Even if the evidence is flimsy at best, he‘s enough of a cynic about male sexuality (namely his own) to think that another man would even want to settle down with a woman.
There’s possibly some influence of Sofia’s own relationship with her father on display given how much the film ultimately goes into exploring emotional estrangement and alienation from father figures. I have no reason to assume Francis Coppola is THIS much of a cynical man-whore though.
Roles like this are the kind that Bill Murray was born to play. More than any comedic actor in his generation, his image of aloofness, casual nihilism and sardonic detachment define his personality. While I think that personality is best served in a film like Groundhog Day that constantly repudiates such amoralism, On The Rocks plays with the fun part of his person by indulging in Murray’s personality. This isn’t a role anybody but he could play!
In the end though, the performance mostly serves to become the physical manifestation of Rashida Jone’s character. He’s a radical enabler who clearly just wants to spend time with his daughter and doesn’t know how to fully articulate his honest feelings of love. Laura’s story is ultimately her coming to terms with her own anxiety and fear.
The film does a really good job capturing this emotion too. It’s obvious from the get go that Dean isn’t likely doing anything wrong and that her fears are a manifestation of her own insecurities. The film doesn’t scold her for her feelings though. The performance by Jones and the script humanly capture the fear and tension that comes with growing older and realizing you’re not fully the kind of person you want or ought to be.
I won’t call On the Rocks a masterpiece but it’s certainly refreshing as far as recent releases go. It’s made me reconsider my undo prejudice against Sofia Coppola’s movies and it was a good time! It’s a light dramedy and an honest problem comedy that leaves you feeling good!
On the Rocks will be available on Apple TV+ starting October 23, 2020 and is currently showing in limited release.