Nov 6, 2020 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Sofia Coppola’s latest film, “On the Rocks” (an A24 movie, for those keeping track at home), is beautifully shot, but the story hardly warrants the scrumptious visuals. Perhaps burdened by her accomplished career — having directed “Lost in Translation” (2004) and “The Virgin Suicides” (1999) — “On the Rocks” fails to meet the expected mark.
Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a mother nearing 40 who’s noticing an ever-widening gap between her and her husband, Dean (Marlon Wyans). This rift widens after Laura finds Dean’s assistant Fiona’s (Jessica Henwick) toiletry bag in Dean’s luggage, and Laura goes to her father Felix (Bill Murray) for help. Felix is a former art-dealer and current playboy past his prime, relying on his history of infidelity to help Laura figure out if Dean is cheating on her. Laura must navigate domesticity while attempting to corral her father’s errant personality.
Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography is stunning and complements Coppola’s still-life-esque style of shooting inanimate objects. From mesmerizing, extreme close-ups of flower bouquets and martinis, to extreme wide shots of brownstones and skyscrapers, the lens, lighting, and color choices were spot-on. Expect some Oscar buzz around Le Sourd’s work in “On the Rocks.”
While the movie is a technical success, its story sucks. Aside from dependable performances from Jones, Murray, and Jenny Slate, “On the Rocks” drags on with a milquetoast plotline. Sure, the recon scenes with Murray and Jones are super fun, primarily a scene in which they zip around town in a vintage Alfa Romeo — such reconnaissance harkens back to Murray’s gopher-hunting role in “Caddyshack” (1980).
It also seems like Coppola is in conversation with the misogyny of the “Caddyshack” era, positioning contemporary femininity and domesticity in relation to the traditional masculinity of Felix’s mid- to late-20th century “charm.” Though, maybe “misogyny” is a more apt term for what the character portrays.
The film’s discussion of gender is vague and operates within the boundaries of heteronormativity. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it is almost as if Coppola is intentionally avoiding doing anything interesting with this social theme. Act three continues this trend of banality by wasting the opportunity to subvert audience expectations of the genre it decided to inhabit. Instead, the movie ends how you’d predict, rendering the final 20 minutes optional viewing.
The New York City of this film is inaccessible, both temporally and socioeconomically. There’s a scene in which Laura and one of her daughters are riding a New York elevator, and Laura’s daughter touches each button before pressing the one for their desired floor. Gone is the era of casually touching elevator buttons without anxious restraint, and alien is the world of “500,000 followers” parties for Dean’s tech start-up company and the “Bombay martinis” of fancy dining lounges Felix treats Laura to. It’s tough to give a damn about the lifestyle of wealth presented in “On the Rocks,” and it’s disappointing to see it dominate the film’s narrative.
“On the Rocks” is a perfect fit for Apple TV+, the movie and the company both facilitating an image of well-sanded, pristine progress, but this image of progress is merely a shell that shrouds the innards of neoliberal capitalism. Nevertheless, the shell of “On the Rocks” is quite beautiful, and worth the watch if you’re in search of a good-looking movie. You can stream the film on Apple TV+.