REVIEW: On the Rocks (NYFF 2020)
Sofia Coppola has had an illustrious career, from The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010), The Bling Ring (2013) all the way through to The Beguiled (2017). She has become something of an expert in portraying the malaise and ennui of the privileged white woman, with her only significant male characters being Somewhere‘s Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and Lost in Translation‘s Bob Harris (Bill Murray). Men have also existed in her work as objects of desire – from the iconic Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) in The Virgin Suicides to McBurney (Colin Farrell) in The Beguiled.
Coppola has received some criticism about the lack of diversity in her films and she appears to be addressing that here in On the Rocks, which explores the marriage of Laura (Rashida Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans). She has, however, very much stuck to realm of the uber-privileged, as they are rich New Yorkers. Coppola has also reunited with Bill Murray, who plays Laura’s father but of course, is very much playing Bill Murray.
Dean is away, traveling for work a lot and Laura becomes fearful that he may be having an affair. Her father insists on the two of them becoming a pair of amateur detectives in order to investigate. This appears to involve Laura being able to frequently hire a babysitter at the drop of a hat, leave her two children at home and go on wild goose chases with her ‘quirky’ (sigh) Dad.
One of the main issues with On the Rocks is that it has none of the self-awareness of Marie Antoinette or The Bling Ring, which brilliantly skewered the rich, while also giving us the sense that Coppola maintained affection for her characters. The only glimpse we get of this in On the Rocks is with a brilliant cameo from Jenny Slate, one of the fellow Mums from Laura’s kids’ school, who is constantly prattling on about her inane love-life and other ‘problems.’
On the Rocks gives us little to care about. A woman who has the kind of life many of us dream about (a nice New York apartment, time to work on her writing, a gorgeous husband and kids) invents an issue that doesn’t even exist and then gets her knickers in a twist about it for the remainder of the film. She then gets regularly picked up her even richer father in his lovely classic car and taken out for cocktails to discuss the ‘issue.’ I’m a sucker for New York set films and this should have been an easy sell for me, but even using iconic locations like Bemelmen’s Bar (recently seen in the brilliant High Fidelity show) is not enough to sustain interest or provide relief from the total lack of stakes.
With New York Film Festival showcasing Steve McQueen’s brilliant Small Axe series, it feels almost crass that they would also highlight two Rich People Problems movies – On the Rocks and French Exit. It’s extremely hard to summon up the strength to care about these characters at the moment. If the film was fun and entertaining, that would be one thing, but Murray’s tired schtick is not enough to salvage things.
This is, by an extremely wide margin, Coppola’s worst film. She has finally featured Black characters in one of her stories then given us the most shallow, empty and pointless narrative to surround them. These are the exact criticisms that have been thrown at The Bling Ring, which is actually so much smarter than what is happening here. Rashida Jones is also a fantastic actress who deserves a much better starring film role than this. For fans of Coppola’s work, it is hard to see how this can be anything other than a bitter disappointment.
On the Rocks is available on Apple TV+ from October 23 2020.