On the Rocks
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans
On the Rocks, the new Sofia Coppola movie out on Apple TV+, feels like something she hastily wrote on a napkin once, and then promptly forgot about it. Why she decided to invest time and energy on the idea, perhaps unearthed during spring cleaning, is what we must get to the bottom of.
As the title suggests, the film is, like many Sofia Coppola films, about a marriage on the rocks. Rashida Jones plays the filmmaker’s stand-in, a writer named Laura. Marlon Wayans plays her aloof husband, Dean.
Watch the On the Rocks trailer here
They’re rather boring, frankly. Neither is she the plucky heroine that she thinks she is, nor is Dean the sort of deplorable dude that the movie would have us believe. So when Laura begins suspecting him of having an affair with his stunning ‘business associate’, you care neither about her quest to uncover the truth, nor do you expect to be satisfied if and when Dean is caught.
The sole joy that On the Rocks offers is the sight of Bill Murray — an actor the great critic Roger Ebert once described as ‘someone who can get a laugh by simply just standing there’ — in his element as Laura’s ageing Lothario of a father, Felix.
Laura turns to him for help after she begins fearing the worst — Felix is in a position to offer her a glimpse inside the mind of a chauvinist pig, seeing as he’s one himself. But why doesn’t she first seek the advice of a friend or two? It’s because she has none.
This would be a totally fine character detail in another movie — I’m sure there are many friendless people in the world, especially married women who don’t get out much — but the film never addresses this. There’s no explanation for why Laura, who seems like a perfectly pleasant person capable of socialising, only ever discusses her marital problems with her dad — especially if you consider the fact they have somewhat of a strained relationship.
He’s the sort of guy who can squeeze anthropological facts about sexuality into any conversation. During a stakeout on which he brings caviar and crackers as refreshments, he mansplains to Laura how women can’t hold onto their men, keeping in mind that no man is hardwired to remain monogamous.
This is one of the most aggravating things about this film. Like Felix, it seems to believe that the burden of responsibility always lies on the women to keep a relationship alive. Men, it suggests, cannot be trusted. It’s sort of like having a co-worker that everyone has decided is a liability, and is judged by different, less demanding standards.
So on several occasions, we see Laura beating herself up for being suspicious of Dean. The sexism has been so deeply ingrained in her that she cannot fathom for one second that Dean’s decision to cheat needn’t necessarily have anything to do with her.
On the Rocks is a curiously outdated movie, thematically and stylistically — not at all on par with the handful of contemporary classics that Coppola has made over the last decade or so.
There are, however, a couple of bright sparks besides the Bill Murray performance. Jenny Slate appears in a recurring cameo as an overly chatty acquaintance who offers Laura unsolicited life updates about a man she had an affair with during Hurricane Sandy, and a dreamy soundtrack featuring Chet Faker and Phoenix, providing perhaps the only indication that On the Rocks is, in fact, a Sofia Coppola movie. It certainly had no business coming across as Woody Allen’s forgotten leftovers.