On the Rocks (2020)

by Not Friends Cinema Club

Dear Francis,⁣

This will be one of the rare occasions where I recommend a film I don’t agree with. I liked 𝘖𝘯 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟸𝟶), I genuinely did. Like so many modern films whose distributors attempt to 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩 rather than 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘦, 𝘖𝘯𝘦 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘴 had a trailer which was so trivial, it reserved a position of familiarity in relation to every other 𝘐-𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦-𝘪𝘯-𝘢-𝘩𝘶𝘨𝘦-𝘕𝘠𝘊-𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵-𝘢𝘯𝘥-𝘐-𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦-𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘨𝘦-𝘪𝘴𝘴𝘶𝘦𝘴 flick; this sort of detachment from reality becomes sheltered and anonymous at some point. But the execution didn’t feel quite as victimised (this is why I don’t like watching trailers…), although it wasn’t too far off the mark, and Coppola’s direction is fundamentally to both thank for, and answer to this.⁣

Rashida Jones plays the pushover Laura; a woman so incessantly reserved her true colours only show through sarcasm. This is nothing new, Jones’ range is unfortunately very narrow, and she seems to consistently suit the role of a person who may as well wear stripes wherever she goes, as everyone just walks all over her. Her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans… sound familiar? I suggest you search his filmography, and you’ll understand why he’s only given about 8-minutes of screen-time…) is classically distant. His tone is cringingly apprehensive—like he’s choking on an extra world-shattering syllable—and his family-man choreography seems like muscle memory rather than familial piety.⁣

Their marriage is shown to be fraying at the seams; Dean stammers into the bedroom on Xanax after a long flight and literally winces at the sound of Laura’s voice midway through a passionate Frenching. He’s either rushing to or rushing from home, and on the odd occasion Dean’s seated in Laura’s company, he’s yapping about some no-name start-up (𝘺𝘢𝘸𝘯, I know). The phrase “𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘴” suggests at one point there was unbothered buoyancy in their marriage, but the opening scene of the couple on their wedding night is sweet, yes, but not palpably emotional. Was this boat ever 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 at sea? If so, maybe their body of water is just ship-wreckingly shallow?

Laura begins to suspect foul play, and not-so-much ‘confides’ in her father Felix as some have suggested (he’s not even the first person she calls), but Felix seems to be the only person who truly listens. Now, this is where Coppola’s minimalistic style works, as a contrasting force which subdues Bill Murray. A notorious show stealer, Murray’s facetious antics are played down by Coppola, and it gives Felix a chance to show genuine remorse toward his daughter who he emotionally left behind when living out his own marital infidelities. The film becomes less about ‘man vs. woman’ than ‘daughter vs. dad’. The moments of almost-clarity where the wrinkles in Felix’s frowning jowl are emphatically cavernous strangely instill the emotion of ‘empathy’ in Bill Murray, who’s historically a royal cynic. As much of a 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦-𝘰𝘧-𝘵𝘩𝘦-𝘪𝘥 as he is, Felix genuinely doesn’t want Laura to fall victim to two monsters in one lifetime.⁣

From here on out, the film does become stoically unambitious. The relentless closeups work well to establish the character study, but it also establishes how withdrawn these characters are from the real world. I don’t think films need to always be sclerotic reflections of ourselves—if that were the case, then every time I get pulled over for speeding I’d always try to guess the cops fathers name—but I do think trivial insecurities from inside high-ceilinged New York apartments are somewhat banal. It doesn’t help that the “score” (Christmas elevator music) by Phoenix sounded like another AppleTV ad (I wonder if it’s a coincidence seeing as Apple paid Zoetrope for half the distribution rights…), or that some have hailed this as a form of therapy for Sofia Coppola, forever pale under the shadow of her fossilised father, Francis.⁣

𝘖𝘯 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟸𝟶) also has a resolution issue: if Dean cheats, Felix’s misogyny is somewhat endorsed; if he doesn’t, then Laura is irrefutably dependent, and lacking any semblance of self-security. And before you say it, yes, I know that the narrative is probably from Laura’s perspective rather than some fictional cinema-verité. So, we’re probably a victim of Felix as much as Laura is, the echoes of clarity too faint as we venture through New York with shared tunnel vision, guided by a man who never found the edges of his own peripherals. Maybe I’m just like my co-reviewer Will, and I fail to see that “𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵’𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘰𝘪𝘯𝘵 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘯!”⁣

So, to save myself the hassle of argument, I advise you to disregard my lowish-score and go see this. And I wish Marlon Wayans all the best in (hopeful) retirement.⁣

Warm regards,⁣