You are here

On the Rocks

On the Rocks

Some movies I watch just for the wallpaper

dir: Sofia Coppola

2020

I was kinda excited to see this. Lost in Translation has played an outsized role in my life for many years, and at least 2 of the people responsible for it are here again.

Yeah, I know, parts of Lost in Translation are a bit problematic, which is a euphemism for straight out racist, but it did have a great soundtrack? And it looked great, and made Japan look great?

Bill Murray dominated that film, and he dominates this film too, even with less screen time. Like either the shark in Jaws or the giant gorilla in King Kong, when he’s not around, everyone’s still talking about him until he turns up.

The protagonist here, really, is Laura (Rashida Jones), and Murray plays her father. She has two young kids, seems checked out, is trying to write something, and her husband (Marlon Wayons) is often away on work trips.

That’s pretty much the whole film. I don’t mean that’s the premise, or how it starts, I mean that’s the entire film. I haven’t gone out of my way to make it sound simplistic or off-putting – I’ve left those bits out. I guess I’m trying to say there’s not a lot going on here.

When she starts suspecting that maybe her husband is cheating on her with a lady at work, that gives her something to do with her dad. You see, her dad, is a terrible piece of shit. But he is an immensely successful and charismatic piece of shit. His relentless womanising and contempt for women immediately makes him certain that Laura’s husband must definitely be cheating on her, because, hey, all men are dogs, right?

In a very weak, wan fashion, this gives father and daughter something to do, and something to talk about, until the grand revelation at the end: I’m not going to spoil shit about this flick, because then there’d be even less reason to potentially watch it, and it’s not my business trying to dissuade people from watching flicks made by Sofia Coppola. I think Sofia Coppola is a great director, better than her more famous father, that’s for sure. But as good as she is, some days it must be hard to have Francis Ford Coppola as a father.

I don’t know if Papa Coppola is in any way as much of a piece of shit as Felix is here; he’s certainly not as charismatic as Bill Murray, but maybe there is something else she’s trying to get across here.

Felix swans through life with utter ease, with absolute confidence that his way will prevail at all times, and which still, at least in the context of this flick, means every woman independent of age or station or inclination enjoys at the very least being eye-fucked by Felix as they exchange banalities and promises of future meetings.

That is whatever it is, but the far more worrying thing is the casual way Felix gets across his complete disdain for women, to the point where he even claims he can’t even hear them when they speak anymore. Of course he implies that whatever contempt he might have for all other women, it isn’t applicable to Laura, because, after all, she’s his daughter, and therefore an extension of himself. As he’s the perfect one to lecture her about how undependable men are, she listens to his sage advice, and gives in to her suspicions, because literally what else does this character have to do?

Don’t get me wrong (actually, get me wrong, it’s not like it’ll make a difference), scenes between father and daughter are fine, great even. Bill Murray is in fine form, I guess, even though the character is a monstrous arsehole. The thing about charismatic charming arseholes is that they’re charming and charismatic, so at least for some of the time, being in their presence is an honour and a privilege. Other times it’s a fucking drag, or they’re never around when you need them, or, for their own reasons, they lean into our worst tendencies and characteristics because it amuses them.

For all that I “enjoyed” scenes between Jones and Murray, the flick is not as illuminating as it thinks it is. Yes, men are scum, and will fuck around on their partners, but this film at least approaches the question of “why” from the wrongest of angles. It allows Felix to smokescreen and gaslight for the longest time before eventually saying the only things that rang true, being that someone of Felix’s caliber needs the people around him to be devoted to him. The second that they have to focus on someone else, like, their kids, as in Laura’s mother’s case, Felix loses interest in them, and needs to find someone else, anyone else, to gaze upon him with devotion, and like he’s the only man that matters.

The problematic thing for me is that it ends up, for much of the flick’s length, superseding any thoughts or feelings or concerns Laura might have about anything but especially about her relationship with her father and her relationship with her husband. It reduces her agency to the point where she is required solely to have Felix propelling her forward with his own design, less in order to figure out whether her husband is cheating, and more to figure out why Dean would cheat based on what crap Felix says about caviar or Corsicans or evolution.

It’s frustrating to have Laura be so passive throughout, though I guess there’s the payoff in the end, where she figures out she should not be judging her husband or relationships in general through the distorted lens her father has fashioned for her. Felix’s reasons for being a philanderer could be completely independent of her relationship difficulties with her husband Dean.

If we felt that such a realisation would lead to an interesting scene between husband and wife where their either resolve their feeling of distance, or scream at each other like the loudest bits of Marriage Story, well, that’s not this film, because there is very little invested in the actual relationship between the characters. For the premise to even vaguely work it requires Dean to mostly be polite but distant. When something which could potentially point to him having an affair crops up, his explanations have to be low-key but somehow still evasive. He has to always been seen as treating his wife like she’s great, but if other people are around, especially work people, she barely exists, or she needs to be mocked in their eyes in order to…I’m not sure what.

I have no doubt that there are people who mock their partners in front of their co-workers or friends, because hey, this is the shitty world we live in, and that’s what some people are like, but it really feels like the movie leans into a way of depicting stuff, and then totally pulls back when it is no longer convenient, or when the ‘revelation’ is made at the end.

The argument between Laura and Felix gives Laura an opportunity to tell her dad what a shitty person he is because of what he did in the past, and for trying to convince her of the worst regarding her husband because it somehow serves his purposes. There is some satisfaction in that.

The ‘argument’ at the end between Laura and Dean could possibly be the most banal or bland conversation had by people ever, in an expensive restaurant or not. Of all the indifference or neglect one could be privy to, to have it resolved with “I was just trying to work hard and be successful to get you all the moneys you wanted” feels like lame bullshit. There are plenty of jerks and jerkettes who neglect their families, work exceedingly long hours, take their partners for granted AND cheat on them as well with people who they work with, and they’d give exactly the same justification. And there are people who work difficult jobs and long hours, and who don’t get to spend as much time with their families as they wish, and they struggle with work-life balance. Some of us do. Others try to spend as much time away from their families as they can.

They’re all different kinds of struggles, but here it feels a bit trite.

There’s a potentially rich scene where Felix and Laura are hooning around in a vintage Alfa Romeo, and are stopped by the cops. Felix somehow magically manages to convince the cop he knows his father and grandfather, solely because this one cop in all of New York has an Irish surname. Laura beholds all this with incredulity, seeing that there are no limits to Felix’s charm-mongering, but it’s with some mixture of admiration and disgust that she says to him “It must be great being you.”

Is there potentially the element by which she, playing a biracial character, being African-American herself, that she sees how wonderfully the traffic stop went from Felix’s perspective this time, which would not have gone so smoothly had he been, like her, African-American? The flick doesn’t take it there, preferring instead to make it just another occasion where Felix is charming as fuck and has no consequences for his behavior ever.

I think the flick still works, even given how much of a terrible person Felix clearly is. You can still love these awful, sexist charming old bastards. It’s possible. It’s hard not to ‘love’ Bill Murray as this character because he is old and charming, and we’re aware that they’re not going to be around forever. We just have to also make sure that we don’t let them poison our relationships with other people.

On the Rocks has a bit of melancholy in it, a bit of the drudgery of the everyday, with a good Murray performance and what could have been a great Rashida Jones performance with a more convincing ending, but ultimately it felt a bit trite. And that’s okay. I need light triteness some nights. It’s the only way to get through.

7 times Bill Murray is pretty much like this in real life it seems out of 10

--
“He’s a man. It’s nature. Males are forced to fight to dominate and to impregnate all females.” – yeah, well, we sometimes have other stuff going on too - On the Rocks

Rating: