On the Rocks (2020) – Review

On the Rocks hits Apple TV+ on October 23.

By Chris Flanagan

On the Rocks offers a break from the traditional Sofia Coppola film that chooses style over substance and showcases a writer/director who has matured in life which has informed her art. It’s a story that while funny throughout is always lurking on the periphery of tragedy.

The movie follows Lauren (Rashida Jones), a married mother of two daughters, who is seemingly stuck in an uncreative and bland place in life. This slowly gives way to suspicion of her husband’s faithfulness due to his intense work schedule in order to see his fledgling business succeed. These questions are further exaggerated by Lauren’s eccentric father, Felix (Bill Murray), who intentionally stokes the flames of doubt in order to spend time with his daughter. Rashida Jones does a good job of encapsulating the turmoil and self-disappointment of Lauren as she arrives at an impasse in life but this film is tailor-made for Bill Murray who often seems as if he was only given an outline for the film and not a script resulting in him roaming free within each scene – and it’s perfect. True to character, Murray’s Felix comes with a past that has pushed his family away after years of infidelity but despite these acts, Lauren is still able to maintain a relationship with him.

Coppola has always had an eye for what is beautiful and is able to have that manifest on film effortlessly. On the Rocks is no exception. As previously mentioned, On the Rocks offers a much more narratively focused story but Coppola is still able to infuse her film with style as the city of New York is a subtle background character that is ever-present throughout. Its architecture, people, and sounds occupy nearly every scene and as someone who has never been to New York, it not only made me want to desperately visit but also made me feel as if I already had.

At the heart of the film, is a cast shadow of doubt that begins small but gradually evolves into something potentially catastrophic. It’s something that every married couple has encountered and thus risks isolating a certain section of its audience, however, it’s approached in such broad terms that anyone who has ever embarked on a relationship can relate which is key to enjoying the film’s funnier moments because there can still be comedy in difficult times. However, On the Rocks does something different with its resolution that I didn’t quite fully understand until well after the credits. The seed of doubt that was innocently planted early on in its first act continued to grow after the film was finished and with Coppola’s clever writing there was never anything definitive to completely squash it. It’s the mark of a transcendent story when it stays embedded in your mind well after you’ve moved on from it and On the Rocks accomplished just that without ever tipping its hand fully in one direction or another. It’s an impressive feat that was not expected and made the film that much more interesting.

On the Rocks accomplishes many things on several levels. It is an evolution from a writer/director who has taken a step forward in her art that not only chooses visuals to carry her story but explores her characters in a much more personal tone that forms feelings of empathy towards them from her audience that was previously lacking. It is a story that resonates with most everyone that views it as it focuses on the difficulties of navigating self-purpose and worth within a marriage that is not dying but has stalled. And it’s a wonderful depiction of the less exciting moments that populate life but also the hilarious ones that are often difficult to encapsulate on paper or in film but Coppola does an excellent job of showcasing the repetitiveness of day-to-day existence that constantly feature both.

I give On the Rocks an A.