On The Rocks (2020)
All too often a film attracts attention because of its pedigree ingredients. When a director’s surname is Coppola, or when the rusty icon Bill Murray is involved, expectations run high but also have further to fall. With its potpourri of labels, adventure, comedy and drama, On the Rocks (2020) is another example of a film being much less than the sum of its parts.
With writer’s block and a stale marriage, Laura (Rashida Jones) reconnects with her father to confide her woes. Husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is absorbed in his start-up venture and aims so high that there’s no time left for family life. While most couples would find their own way of resolving tensions, Laura’s father Felix (Bill Murray) relishes the chance to interfere in her marriage. A wealthy past-his-prime Lothario, he encourages Laura to suspect Dean’s fidelity and hatches schemes to prove cheating.
While this contrived narrative has potential, several fault lines become clear early in what is a mercifully short movie. Laura succumbs too willingly to her father’s plotting to turn her life into a private investigation adventure, and Felix is too single-minded about Dean’s guilt without cause. When Felix shows physical discomfort passing Dean on a doorstep, the visceral whiff of racial prejudice against the Black American is unmistakable but left unexplored. The emotional threads you might expect to find between the three adult roles (and Laura’s two children) are so thinly developed it is difficult to actually care for anyone in this story. Nor is there any sign of what made Bill Murray a household name in comedy. The lack of a tension curve and a banal script do not help.
It is not clear why this film was made. Scattered throughout are hints of a message, however unformed. Felix repeatedly asserts, in essence, that ‘all men are bastards’ and that Dean is no exception. His own life is another example, having deserted his wife long ago and gathered a long trail of failed romances. Laura’s gullibility in accepting her father’s meddling is inexplicable and hints at deeper problems of her own. Dean’s emotional disconnection from his family is presented as a normalised by-product of male ambition. Nobody could accuse this film of being a feminist essay on self-identity or empowerment. From beginning to end, Laura is a walking portrait of domesticated victimhood while Felix and Dean are avatars of male agency.
Perhaps no message is intended and it’s just entertainment. If so, On the Rocks can at best be described as a moderately amusing but pointless tale of a rocky marriage and a father-daughter relationship that never grew up.
Director: Sophia Coppola
Stars: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans