Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” is very aptly named; what starts off as an interesting, layered and promising experience gradually gets watered down into a dull, unimaginative and disappointing swill. And that’s unfortunately the taste that the film leaves us with, and its not a nice one.
“On the Rocks” is an unbelievably decadent insight into New York’s elite, starring Rashida Jones as Laura Jones, a published author living in Manhattan with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and her two young daughters. Laura is struggling to start her newest book amid the feelings of loneliness and isolation she experiences as a young mother while her husband is rarely to be seen getting his new business venture off the ground. Dean is a seemingly wonderful husband and father, but after a series of red flags, Laura begins to suspect that he may be cheating on her. When she airs her concerns to her father Felix (Bill Murray), a charming and philandering art dealer with a taste for expensive cars and caviar, he suggests that they start tailing Dean and find out for sure. The two proceed to stalk Dean and his business associates, bonding and hitting up some of New York’s most exclusive haunts and drinking a score of martinis in the process.
The film’s most obvious platform is to portray the relationship between a somewhat estranged father and daughter, and it sort of, kind of, thinks about doing it. Jones and Murray have some decent chemistry and they have a couple of nice moments together but unfortunately their interactions are often quite shallow. She gets annoyed at him flirting with waitresses and he spouts a piece of trivia about the Romans or why a drink is named the way it is. Initially this was fine, because I assumed the film would gradually transition into some kind of deeper territory but it just doesn’t. There’s no arc or depth in their relationship and I was waiting for that scene where the two let down all their guards and are brutally honest with each other. You can tell there are times where Coppola is hinting towards this but it really doesn’t pay off. There’s a confrontation later in the film where Laura yells at her father and he says nothing at all, which lasts about twenty seconds and really could have been pulled out of any film about a father who’s cheated on his wife. Oh and then Felix’ exit from the film comes out of nowhere and their relationship is somehow repaired because Laura can finally whistle after not being able to for the entire run time.
I felt like Jones and Murray did the best with what they were working with, but were ultimately playing very early drafts of their characters, which lacked both depth and humanity. Murray admittedly has his moments, but the laughs were few and far between and I think a real waste of one of Hollywood’s funniest leading men. In the same way, I think they did Jones a disservice in her role here. She’s a talented actress and was barely allowed to do anything except look tired and exasperated – even in the scenes which were clearly aimed at the two of them engaging in a sort of buddy cop schtick were somehow flat and lifeless. The only gag that even came close to working was when Laura goes to drop off her kids at school and one of the other mothers (Jenny Slate) insists on talking about her dating life with no self awareness or pauses for breath.
It’s extraordinary how a film which is so dense in physical detail and so beautiful to look at (every scene is bursting with symbolic references, meaningful touches and enough designer furniture to choke a horse) fails to even try and do the same thing with the story. The set production is exquisite, (that first book must have been a bestseller considering their apartment is a two story interior design wet dream in the middle of Manhatten) and it’s nice following them around New York’s flashiest watering holes, but its all flash and no substance. The issue surrounding the question of Dean’s infidelity is resolved in such a mind numbingly stupid way that I kept waiting for a surprise twist because that’s the only way that it could have made sense. Laura never properly expresses herself to Dean, he’s never called out on his role in the issues in their marriage and everthing that caused her to suspect him in the first place is just ignored.
That’s the theme throughout the entirety of “On the Rocks” though; themes are touched upon but never properly explored, characters are introduced but never properly developed and for a supposed comedy, chuckles are occasionally teased but never really make it into fully fledged laughs. There is the shadow of a good film here, and I think in the right hands it could have been. Coppola is a talented director, “Lost In Translation” is testament to that, but unfortunately “On the Rocks” doesn’t even come compare.
By Jock Lehman