Published Oct 16, 2020At first glance, Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks looks a hell of a lot like a spiritual successor to Lost in Translation. Once again, we've got Bill Murray as a past-it Lothario alongside a young woman who feels aimless after a recent marriage (this time Rashida Jones instead of Scarlett Johansson), set against the backdrop of an alienating metropolis (this time New York instead of Tokyo). But while Lost in Translation's shoegaze soundtrack and neon-hued cityscapes made confusion feel comforting, On the Rocks dives head-on into rawer emotional territory.
Jones plays Laura, an aspiring writer living in apparent marital bliss with husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and their two kids. The idyllic façade begins to crumble when Dean returns from one of his many work trips; first he seems surprised to find Laura in his bed, next she finds another woman's toiletries in his suitcase. Yet another work trip means that he misses Laura's birthday, and he's been spending a suspicious amount of time with his coworker Fiona.
From there, Laura's lecherous dad Felix comes into the picture with thoughtful gifts for his daughter and a lot of theories about what Dean is really up to. Private investigators and ill-fated stakeouts ensue.
Coppola attempts to keep the tone light with an aggressively chipper score and comedian Jenny Slate in a small, funny role as a romantically bumbling single mom. Felix's outdated style of lustful charm is more creepy than endearing, but even so, Murray can deliver the hell out of a snarky one-liner. At one point, he bids his family goodbye and says, "I love you all! The biggest one the most, and then in descending order." Is there another actor who could sell that silly line like Murray does here?
At barely an hour an a half, On the Rocks stops just as soon as it gets going. There are more threads to explore here: a moment when Laura walks through the streets to an ambient soundtrack briefly taps into the understated melancholy of Lost in Translation, and the father-daughter relationship here is far more engrossing than the wife-husband relationship. We never really see much romantic closeness between Laura and Dean, so the stakes in their relationship don't feel all that high. It's tempting to imagine what On the Rocks could have been with a little less adulterous paranoia and a little more introspection. (Also, I realize I'm nitpicking here, but the characters are shown with martinis, which isn't a drink served "on the rocks." Couldn't they have had an old fashioned or something, just so that the double entendre of the title actually worked?)
Still, as a tight and cathartic story of fraught relationships — both parental and marital — On the Rocks tackles its unpleasant themes with a surprising sense of fun. (A24 / Apple TV+)