The sins of the father so often become the sins of the son, it’s a tale that has graced the silver screen countless times, from The Godfather to The Place Beyond the Pines. Yet, something very similar to this premise is rarely touched upon; the sins of the father becoming sins of the daughter. Sofia Coppola latest work “On the Rocks” is a quirky, often charmingly hilarious look at how fathers influence their daughters, and how it can be so hard, yet so essential, to let go.
Laura (Rashida Jones), is a published author working on her next book, which she’s already sold to her publishers. She’s married to Dean (Marlon Wayans), the father of her two daughters. Dean is the head of a nondescript start-up which is beginning to boom frequently taking him out of town with his attractive co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick), which serves to build tension in his marriage when Laura finds Fiona’s toiletry bag in Dean’s luggage. Suspicious and confused, Laura makes like Alice and tumbles swiftly down the rabbit hole of spying on her husband, all with the help of her sly and charismatic father Felix (Bill Murray).
From the instant they take the screen together Jones and Murray have a connection, like in another life they shared some kind of benevolently tortured parental relationship. It all comes from this sort of resigned acceptance that Laura has for her father’s behaviour. He hits on every woman we come across, from a waitress to his granddaughter’s ballet teacher, and it is all entirely respectful, but still not something you would generally do in front of your daughter, from whose mother you’ve split. Yet Laura always greets Felix with a constant love, something like a, “I know you shouldn’t do that, but I know that’s who you are”, kind of love, borne from superficial apathy perhaps. Thematically this boils and evolves throughout the film, but early on it becomes very clear that these two are very close despite their tumultuous past.
It is this connection that throws Laura into a crisis of consciousness, seeing her torn between her husband and her father as the choice of the prominent male figure in her life. Possibly through a sense of betrayal or to make up for lost time with her father, who was not there for large parts of her youth, Laura begins to follow Dean around New York. Felix starts the process on behalf of his daughter and, whilst she resists, she’s always a little too eager to find the spoils of his efforts. Laura comes to realise her participation in this unwitting game of tug-of-war and ultimately confronts her father in what is a genuinely moving moment and then before you know it the film is done.
So fleeting and straightforward is On the Rocks that it almost goes without saying that this is Coppola’s most digestible film, and yet, it is still so far above the calibre of many other directors. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Coppola was showing off how easily she can create a touching, hilarious and cathartic tale all within 96 minutes without a single dull moment. To top it all off, her talent for making every shot as evocative as possible remains almost unmatched as well, with nearly every frame being a poem on paternity and doubt. The brief moments of self-reflection in the chaotic life of a mother become moving pieces of art taken from the simple act of walking along a gorgeous New York street.
Every film of Coppola’s plays in such a fashion, but the joy of this one is that you can take everything in upon one viewing and be overrun by its beauty without having to take time to contemplate its meaning. In saying this I don’t mean to insinuate I don’t adore spending time thinking about the wonders of Lost in Translation or the puzzles of The Virgin Suicides, but I do adore enjoying art for art’s sake and On the Rocks delivers that in spades.
On the Rocks is a wonderfully approachable film that arouses hearty laughter while garnering moving insight into the relationship between a daughter and her father.
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