‘On the Rocks’ Review: Characterful but a Little Too Neat

Laura Keene (Rashida Jones) is married with children and although her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is away a lot she believes she is happy. However as she becomes concerned over her husband’s relationship to an attractive coworker Fiona (Jessica Henwick) she confides in her father Felix (Bill Murray) who only adds to her concerns. Succumbing to fear and insecurity she agrees to follow her husband with the help of her eccentric father.

Sofia Copolla has dedicated a great deal of her work to the angst that affects economically secure people. This is a somewhat rare look at a successful long-term relationship and young family from which Coppola draws a subdued drama with fairly straightforward solutions. This isn’t Bergman’s portrayal of marital dissatisfaction but what it lacks in depth and provocation it makes up for in warmth. It’s just a shame that the central drama of the film is wrapped up so conveniently with the ruthless efficiency of a long-running series resetting it’s continuity at the end of each 20 minute episode.

Far more complex is the character of Felix. Murray fills him with an unaffected charm and cool bravado but there’s also a deeply toxic mentality that he uses as a defence for his shortcomings. He charms everyone he meets but struggles to connect with his daughter. He stokes her doubts both as a method of obfuscating his own inability to manage his relationship with Laura’s mother, but also as an excuse to see her. For all his bravura, he is most terrified of earnestly asking to see his daughter and being turned down. Murray is nuanced and memorable as the problematic but haunted old flirt.

Rashida Jones meanwhile is superb as the long suffering daughter who manages to express huge affection for her father as well as a quiet disappointment. She is experiencing the pain of jealousy and suspicion and echoes of a childhood grievance dealt to her by the father she clearly loves. The bond between them is no mystery as they clearly enjoy each other’s company. When with her father, even her deepest fears become an adventure. Even as they discuss the nature of mankind, there’s a sense that within this dynamic everything is manageable for them both.

Stylistically Coppola is more effective when portraying the quiet moments than the hectic. The sequences of Laura getting swept away by the pressing drudgery of her daily routine recall far more inventive and effect sequences in Tully. She’s at her best when her camera finds our characters in opulent but hollow settings or claustrophobic crowd scenes. She has a great eye for small interactions and grounded human moments, finding the cinematic in the most humble of sequences.

Copolla’s film lacks subtlety. It’s a very straightforward drama which benefits hugely from the committed performances at it’s heart. The character work and dialogue make for a far more compelling drama than the script demands. It’s the characters that will stay with you and make you hope that Murray and Coppola are not finished with their work together.

Four Stars

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