You remember how much you liked Lost in Translation but weren’t really able to explain why? Well, director Sophia Coppola has repeated the trick. To make comparisons between that film and this might seem reductive just because they share a star and a director but once again we have Bill Murray bimbling around a beautiful city with a younger woman, there is a sharp script and delightful performances and it all comes together in a movie that somehow manages a charm beyond the total of its component parts. Like Lost in Translation, On the Rocks is a really good film and again I’m not totally sure I can tell you precisely why, at least not in a way that fully captures it.
Still, this is going to be a short review if I don’t try. Clearly a lot of the appeal of the movie comes from the once* and always Dr. Venkman. Murray is not stretching himself here but he is his usual effortlessly endearing self and there is once again pathos behind those Garfield eyes. Despite shining on screen, no wait that’s not the right word – it’s more of a warm fluorescent hum, he again doesn’t eclipse the gently powerful performance of his female co-star, this time played by Rashida Jones not Scarlett Johansson.
*okay I know he played Venkman twice wise-ass, and before you get carried away, no it is not three times because he actually takes on the part of Ray Stantz in Zombieland. Woody Harrelson is doing Venkman.
As with Coppola and Murray’s previous collaboration the women is the heart of the story. Jones’ Laura is a writer struggling with her latest book, while managing two young children and a husband who travels. When she begins to suspect her partner is having an affair and mentions this in passing to her father, played by Murray, he perversely sees that his own philandering past gives him some expertise in this and that this is something they can bond over. Worried by what might be going on, wanting answers and also getting to spend some time with her dad, she goes along with it.
Jones gives a really quite nuanced performance. Throughout numerous film and TV roles she has shown an easy likability and good comedy timing but here she adds a subtle level of emotion and humanity. Her pain at possibly losing her spouse is always there behind every expression. It is great to see her stepping up to this type of lead role.
There is also quite a lot to identify with here, in terms of family relationships across, up and down generations and New York looks spectacular. It also has a little moment that echoes that wonderful little scene in Lost in Translation when Murray says something powerful to Johansson at the end and you never find out what. It didn’t matter what the words were then and it isn’t important what the inscription says here. It’s the intention and connection that’s important, not the verbalisation.
I don’t know if I’ve caught it all then but hopefully that’s given you something. The best thing I can say is to tell you to see it for yourself.
The Ripley Factor:
Sophia Coppola is most certainly a demonstrably feminist film maker but her approach is different to that of many with the same aim. She doesn’t go as far as finding the power in those that are victimised but rather has an interest in women a little on the back foot, and often those neglected or disempowered by men.
At the risk of labouring the comparison even further, this and Lost in Translation and both swing around husbands who have more time for their jobs than their partners and both show the woman regaining some agency, albeit with the help of a Murray shaped man. Then there is Marie Antoinette where the female lead is similarly ignored, passed from one patriarchy to the next and taking what she can from the situation. The Beguiled is fascinating in this respect as it features women with such ingrained ideas about the oppression of men that they suddenly and violently turn on a guy at the slightest inclination that they he may become dominant. The Virgin Suicides also has four daughters taking drastic action against strict paternal rule. Even The Bling Ring has a group of young women going against ‘the man’ in the sense that they rebel against accepted societal convention.
In fact while it least fits the analogy, The Bling Ring, with all the stolen bags and jewellery, highlights the key thing in all of these movies. In rising above their situations, none of Coppola’s characters do anything different or make any compromise. There is no need to become anything other than the women they already are because there is power enough in that.