In November 2018, the indie movie studio A24 signed an agreement with Apple TV+ to produce multiple films for the platform. Written and directed by A24 regular Sofia Coppola, On the Rocks is the first product from this collaboration. Starring Rashida Jones, Bill Murray and Marlon Wayans, On the Rocks is Coppola’s most succinct, funny, and well-developed film since 2003’s Lost in Translation.
Starting off with a gorgeously shot prologue, the audience is introduced to Laura (Jones) and Dean (Wayans) on their wedding night. Fast forwarding to years later, Laura and Dean seem to have a rock-solid relationship, complete with two young daughters and a lush Soho apartment. But Laura becomes suspicious of Dean’s constant work trips with his assistant Fiona (Jessica Henwick).
One night after flying back from London, Dean climbs into bed with Laura. It seems like he is surprised by her voice, which sets off Laura’s internal alarm bells. The next morning she finds a bag of women’s toiletries in her husband’s bag. Ding ding ding.
In comes Felix (Murray), who plays Laura’s father, a suave—and maybe overconfident—retired art dealer. From Paris, he talks to Laura on the phone about her marital suspicions, and it seems like he is as interested in getting down to the truth as she is. Laura and Felix talk it out at a posh lunch filled with Bombay martinis and whisky on the rocks.
As father and daughter, each of their personalities unveil themselves. Laura loves her daughters, but her marriage seems to be weighing her down. A struggling writer, she is going through an intense period of writer’s block. Felix, on the other hand, likes telling stories about man’s evolutionary attraction to women and can’t help but flirt with the waitress at the restaurant.
This strange dynamic between Laura and her showy, chauvinistic father forms the heart of the film. On the Rocks is essentially a father-daughter flick in which each learns a bit more about the other. Yet it’s also an examination of modern feminism and the clash of worldviews between the two characters. Felix isn’t written to be any sort of monster—he’s likeable despite his bad behavior. The question of how to interpret Felix and his relationship with Laura is up to the audience to decide.
Jones gives a strong performance as Laura, a complex character who is nonetheless easy to root for. Murray looks like he’s having so much fun with his role as Felix, who’s always spitting out whatever comes to his mind, no matter who’s around him. Wayans’ calm demeanor as Dean is a departure from some of his more outlandish comedic roles.
On the Rocks is a great example of realist cinema. It may not share many similarities with Lost in Translation besides Murray, but it has a similar slice-of-life feel. Both Laura and Felix feel like real people plucked off the street, even if some of their character traits are exaggerated.
The film’s realism is especially present when it comes to Laura’s friend Vanessa (the hilarious Jenny Slate), who shares way too much information about her own affair while dropping her kids off at school. In another scene that draws from reality, a bar is so loud that people can’t hear each other talk. The characters and setting are written to be as authentic as possible, and they achieve that goal.
Coppola has created an intelligent and strong movie with On the Rocks, one that is not only wildly entertaining but further cements A24 and its relevance in modern independent cinema. One can only hope that the agreement between A24 and Apple TV+ continues to produce more riveting movies to enjoy.
Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+