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Sofia Coppola’s ‘On the Rocks’ is a bittersweet comedy about fathers, daughters and failing marriages

For a while, the film teeters on the brink of sitcom territory, but rescues itself by introducing a degree of complexity in the proceedings.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | December 13, 2020 6:00:54 am
Men will be boys : Rashida Jones and Bill Murray

Is there a couple, anywhere on the planet, which doesn’t experience a sense of drift some years into cohabiting? Being joint at the hip is automatic in the initial rosy period, with partners bereft when apart even for a few hours. But things change. Before you know it, you’ve clocked a few anniversaries, added a member to the family and the little person is sucking up all your energy, not to mention your waking hours, and hey, ho, romance is out of the window.
Sofia Coppola doesn’t waste any time building preambles in her latest, On The Rocks, streaming on Apple TV. Could Laura’s husband Dean be involved with another woman? He’s a textbook case of “men with other things on their mind”: suddenly turning ultra-busy at the office, being too touchy-feely with a stunning colleague, keeping phone chats private, and, that most suspicious thing of all, work trips where said colleague comes along. Could the marriage, not to put too fine a point on it, be on the rocks?
Coppola’s got a fine cast working their way smoothly through this question. Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans feel like a real-life couple in how they dodge conversations which may not be easily rolled back from: rather than confront the ever-busy Dean, Laura prefers to bounce her troubles off her father (Bill Murray), an ageing man-about-town who doesn’t quite believe he’s getting older. And wrinklier.
More than merely focussing on the problems of modern coupledom, exacerbated by the pressures of parenthood, in which one partner picks up much more of the domestic slack, the film is interested in how women negotiate the bends that crop up on their path to self-actualisation. When it’s a man, the time that goes into building a career at the cost of everything else is largely forgiven. Dean is aware that Laura has been left, literally, holding the baby and the bathwater while getting chores done and trying to break a writing jinx, but that’s not going to stop him from waltzing out through the door.
Boys will be boys, whether they are young hunks shimmying up the corporate ladder or playboys on the slope of old age. For a while, the film teeters on the brink of sitcom territory (men and women cannot be friends! they have to be hitting on each other!), but rescues itself by introducing a degree of complexity. It’s interesting how Felix, who roams insouciantly around the world, hopping from one five-star hotel to another, is so willing to think the worst of his son-in-law. There’s no giving Dean the benefit of the doubt; look, look, there he goes, and there she (the colleague) is, he tells Laura, peering through his binoculars, as they go spying on the streets of New York.
As much as Felix loves moralising about other men and infidelity, he himself is no innocent. All these years, Laura has been vaguely aware of her dear papa’s proclivities, (her mother having made the best of her own marriage) but it’s only when the scales fall off her eyes does she really understand how shallow he is.
Murray, an old Coppola hand, is in cracking form. For a man who has lived by his own dodgy rules, and who thinks that no one is good enough for his darling daughter, he stands exposed. Daddy doesn’t always know best.

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