Sofia Coppola seems to be leaning further and further into mass appeal. If using any adjective to describe On the Rocks, it would be “watchable”. No matter how inconsequential the film gets, it’s never truly boring, and its pre-treaded path makes it a fairly certain viewing experience with your parents over that fall break, something you’ll finish watching, say “Hm, that was perfectly fine”, and never watch again. The heist tale of Bill Murray's playboy father to Rashida Jones’s anxieties over her husband's whereabouts isn’t bad, but it never says anything interesting enough to warrant memory in any canon, hardly more of a drop in the ocean than A Very Murray Christmas.
Laura (Rashida Jones) begins to suspect her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) may be having an affair. It's not that he seems unfaithful, but the jewelry store sightings, long work dinners, and time away toy with that little voice in the back of her head, and her idea of her father's (Bill Murray) infidelity, and his help investigating only lead her suspicions to rise. Father and daughter begin a series of late-night stakeouts, bathing in his wealth as they debate the nature of staying together and how this affects the whole family, and old bitterness at fatherhood comes to rise between glasses of champagne and fine art.
Coppola is the closest women have gotten to that common conversation canon of getting into movies masters — men like David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, and Christopher Nolan who have become household names among twenty-somethings that like to claim to be into movies when they’re just starting out. From time to time, Twitter threads crop up, asking readers to name a female director that isn’t Sofia Coppola or Greta Gerwig. Its not that she’s undeserving of this pedestal of popularity, but the steam seems to be running out, and it's worth noting the Coppola family is an easier entry to the film industry than most get, but there’s no denying the great cinema we’ve gotten from her in the past.
What is missing here of Sofia Coppola’s signature charm is her style. The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antionette are as great as they are because they let darkness exist within their hyperfemininity. On the Rocks may believe itself to be a maturation, but in doing so it loses the feminine trappings that have created that distinctive style. If anything, the style here is Apple TV. Sleek and overpriced, like an iPhone, there’s more concern for caviar in a convertible than relatability as a woman in this world. It’s streaming service fodder through and through, and though tightly written, I can’t imagine anyone scrambling to rewatch beyond the novelty of a new Coppola film (though it is less disappointing than Gia Coppola’s newest entry Mainstream, a shallow and buzzy social media caper).
If The Virgin Suicides is the wide-eyed ingenue, then On the Rocks is not a wise mother, but a tired secretary of a film. It feels like it’s running on autopilot, an algorithmically determined family drama until the end, where it becomes a lovely acknowledgement of Laura’s anxiety and self-worth, and the ideas our childhood leave us with about family. Jenny Slate is an absolute star here as well, popping up every thirty minutes or so at Laura’s kids’ school to vent her own frustrations on affairs from the side of “the other woman”. This isn’t just a film about the struggles of marriage, but a map of everyone hurt by the lack of communication in an affair.
It is nice to see a Black family get their bland wealthy family drama, but there are some tropes that are stumbled into, even if unintentionally. It's common that Black families in popular media aren’t homogenous, and the mother is always mixed or lightskin when one parent is darker. It’s a trope that’s followed here, and whether or not it’s intentional, it’s a shame only lighter black women get these glossy romcoms about their families, and On the Rocks only makes it clear how deeply entrenched colorism is in Hollywood.
Perhaps I am being unfair to On the Rocks due to its all-star pedigree. For bourgeoisie anxiety drama, it’s very well made, and Bill Murray and Rashida Jones make charming co-conspirators. However, it does everything it can to pull the relatability out of anxiety, staying in the New York high society of yesteryear, a world that feels so alien that even the real conflicts presented start to feel like trifling rich people problems. It’s a shame Sofia Coppola has matured away from her distinct style, as On the Rocks is the just fine-est film of the year.
On the Rocks streams on Apple TV+ beginning October 23.
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