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'On the Rocks' is another case of style over substance for director Sofia Coppola

Coppola’s films are usually accused of style over substance with a lack of interest in plot and On the Rocks is proof of that

By Isha Vibhakar, Second Year, Theatre and Film

Arguably, it may seem naïve to judge a film by its title, but when it forewarns you by dropping a massive truth bomb like On the Rocks (2020), you can’t simply ignore it. Besides the inevitable fate of the film, the fancy martinis ‘nipped’ over infidelity suspicions and a hard to miss feature of a jumpstarted convertible hitting a few New York city road bumps on the way, set its tone.

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in On the Rocks (2020) | Courtesy of IMDb

With a world premiere at the New York Film Festival and a limited theatrical release, On the Rocks was released to be digitally streamed on October 23, 2020 on Apple TV+. It is Apple’s first film collaboration with indie studio A24 – quite ambitious, if you ask me.

This film marks the reunion of director Sofia Coppola and actor Bill Murray from the whispered confidences of Lost in Translation (2003) to a character portrayal most personal to Coppola in On the Rocks. It also features Rashida Jones who collaborated with the duo for the Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas (2015).

Coppola’s films are usually accused of style over substance with a lack of interest in plot and On the Rocks is proof of that

On the Rocks follows the story of Laura (Jones), a mother of two girls, struggling with childcare, writer’s block and a growing suspicion about that her husband (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair.

Although she confesses to “being stuck in a rut”, we see her father Felix (Murray) swooping in to remind her otherwise. All men are the same (like him) and that it’s ‘natural’ for them to cheat and “impregnate all women”, further fuelling her doubt and jeopardising her marriage at the expense of spending time with his daughter.

Marlon Wayans and Rashida Jones | Courtesy of IMDb

What follows next is a series of loose Italian-style covert meet-ups of the father-daughter duo tailing after the husband.

To unpack Murray’s Felix, we have ourselves a womanising art dealer ever-clad in suits, strutting in a lavish, loyally chauffeured car, setting standards for women by deeming what’s ‘desirable’ and spouting the most outrageous ideologies (or ‘theories’?) outlining ownership, domination and assertion – to me, this felt like an extension of of Barney Stinson from the famous sitcom How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014).

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Coppola’s films are usually accused of style over substance with a lack of interest in plot and On the Rocks is proof of that. While the film retains its aesthetic, it fails to convey much meaning.

However, we get to see her trademark themes of ennui, fame and a female experience with a bankable, deadpan Murray appearance for her female leads to confide in.

Bill Murray and Liyanna Muscat | Courtesy of IMDb

Much like her directorial style, her female protagonists are patient and emotionally enduring. Jones’ Laura is unapologetic when she replaces her father’s watch with the Cartier watch gifted by her husband to show us the main man in her life.

Overall, I believe that while the film achieves the concept of infidelity by featuring cities like Paris and Mexico attributed with that cultural cliché, it is Coppola and Laura who are in fact, just "stuck in limbo"- the former with her usual minimalistic style of contemplation in her direction, and the latter with her monotonous life. So now, you either watch the film and get Coppola out of it or wait for her to realise that it's time to get a move on. After all, Lost in Translation was 17 years ago!

Featured: IMDb

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