4 out of 5 stars
Marriage is a funny thing. Most start with a flurry of extravagance and romance with the festivities that surround the modern-day wedding day. Then life sets in after the honeymoon period which can vary in length based on the strength of the bond between this newly married couple. Depending on the counsel that these couples receive, it will quickly become obvious that these relationships take work and this journey contains as many valleys as it does peaks. It is during one of these dry spells in a marriage that writer/director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) decides to dive into for her latest project.
Laura (Rashida Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) seem to live the idyllic life in New York City. Married with two beautiful children, both seem to have careers that are on the upward trajectory. Laura is working on her latest book while caring for her daughters at home and Dean’s tech firm is quickly gaining ground in international markets. His role has him working long hours and it involves more and more travel that keeps him away from his family. After one of his trips, his wife helps to unpack his bag and finds another woman’s toiletry kit inside. Her discovery propels her mind down the path of insecurity and causes her to wonder if her man is having an affair with one of his work colleagues.
Opposed to asking Dean about her concerns, she decides to confide in her father Felix (Bill Murray) about her fears. A man who has had his share of extramarital flings which leads him to put together a tale of his daughter’s potentially philandering husband. As he tries to help Laura discover the truth about Dean’s indiscretions, Felix begins to see this opportunity as a means of spending time with his daughter. He relishes in putting together a piece-meal investigation that involves meals, stakeouts and international trips for the two of them to experience. This comedic father-daughter investigative team manages to draw them closer, but does muddy the waters of the trust between the husband and wife.
Initially, this film begins as a commentary on the trust in marriage, but eventually turns out to be a story about a father who wants to rebuild his relationship with his daughter. Sofia Coppola adds a clever spin to this familiar narrative by allowing her father, as a serial philanderer, to play on the fears of his daughter to reconnect with her. She skilfully weaves together the anxiety from Laura’s past with her father and overlays them on her own marriage. This emotional angst leads to a screenplay that brilliantly manages to infuse the discussions of trust, faithfulness and the fragility of human relationships into a dark comedy.
Despite having a well-seasoned and robust supporting cast, the whole ordeal belongs to Jones and Murray. It is their connection and believable yearning for reconciliation that will draw the audience into their world. Even though it becomes obvious that Murray is a master manipulator, his on-screen charisma shows why fans love this actor. Also, it justifies how he continues to convince Jones to join him on his ridiculous exploits. She proves to be the perfect complement to Murray’s manner by portraying the insecurities of a wife and daughter. Especially as her worries escalate and she remembers the pain that her mother endured in their past.
Coppola has managed to combine astute writing with the perfect cast while laying it all against the backdrop of New York City. This combination proves to be the right mix for one of the most subtly engaging films of the year. Outside of the unnecessary use of a Chris Rock segment at the beginning, On the Rocks proves to be an obvious contender for awards season and one that can be enjoyed by all.
Reel Dialogue: Human connection
We yearn for human contact and relationships. It is woven into the fabric of society. Husbands and wives, parents with children, strong friendships and work relationships all are based on the need for connection. Yet, this yearning can lead to some of the greatest pains in our lives through unfaithfulness, harsh words and death. It is this stark contrast that begs the question, why do we even bother?
On the Rocks unpacks this underlying desire that we all endure. A hard-wired component that has existed since the beginning of time. Some may want to credit this to an evolutionary process, but that theory falls short of answering how we come to love our fellow human. While a more realistic consideration is that humanity was created for connection. That we were designed by a creator who wants to connect with us and has blessed us with the gift of love for our fellow human beings.
Have you ever thought about that as you hold your child in your arms, hugged a friend who was hurting or held the hand of your lover? Where does the desire for human contact and relationship come from? A good place to start is to go back to the beginning of history itself and see how these emotional, spiritual and physical links were formed.
‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’ Genesis 2:18
‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-40