On the Rocks (2020) Review – Men Are From Earth, Women Are From Earth. Deal With It.


In love, men constitute the amateur bunch, while women are professionals. Well, not in a pejorative way. Women often invest in long substantial parts, while men go for the easy bucks. However, it’s wrong to even categorise humans as men and women. Their pursuit of love is a debatable notion because men and women love differently. Making a balancing act on such a similar narrative is toilsome for many filmmakers. Yet Sofia Cappola has from time to time, weaved stories like such, that show the flaws and confusion of both genders. Her latest addition, On the Rocks, is a funny take on marriage that doesn’t accuse but only converses about marriage problems without getting cynical about it.

On the Rocks is a father-daughter story as a whole. It follows a married couple who have fallen out of intimacy due to the responsibilities of children and maintaining their respective work life. Often, a lack of feeling or emotion creates a vacuum inside us, that is often attacked by either doubt or loneliness. Former is talked in On the rocks as the later one Cappola had already examined in her most famous film, Lost in Translation.

Based on the similar approach towards storytelling, On the Rocks is supported by two major characters who try to find the meaning of love for men and women, through conversations and incidents.

The Story

On the Rocks begins with Laura (Rashida Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) who are newlywed couples. Their relationship is captivated with the fire of romance and wild intimacy, as depicted in a single scene. The story quickly jumps to some year later, when Dean comes from a late office tour and kisses Laura sleeping on the bed. Before it can go any further, Dean starts snoring and sleeps soundly. Laura is wide awake and sceptical.

Laura and Dean, now have two small daughters and a heavy workload to handle in their respective professional lives. But even in the midst of it, Laura can’t stop thinking about what actually happened between her and Dean, the night before. He slept.

Laura mistakenly shares the incident with her emotionally and physically distant father Felix (Bill Murray). Felix seeds a plethora of suspicious thoughts in Laura’s mind that compels her to think that Dean is cheating on her. Felix even visits Laura and both of them start following and investigating Dean. A germ of doubt leads to the suspicion that is watered by Felix, her father. Felix turns Laura’s suspicion into a definite statement, by actually relating Dean’s ignorance and avoidance, to his own behaviour with her mother.

While Laura believes in Felix’s theory, what she discovers about Dean is the story to watch out for.

A Balanced Act

At times, where angry feminists and aggressive patriarchs are booming on the maps and apps, Sofia Cappola’s On the Rocks, feels like a balancing act. Obviously, there are instances which can be perceived in a certain plight by people who want to misjudge it, but for a broad and evolved audience, it distinctively portrays the flaws of both men and women. The prominent instrument to create such an ambience in the film is its dialogue, mostly narrated by Felix and Laura.

Felix has a fluctuating take on women, he converses weird and primitive theories to both defend and accuse men of their behaviour. As in retrospect to his own life, he tells her daughter about his own experience as a man who hits on every woman, he comes across. Felix judges Laura’s Husband Dean, through his own personal wrongdoings in life. He shares his understanding of why men are always attracted to adolescent females. And how hitting on a young woman became the nature of men.

Laura, who just listens to his father’s constant blabbering and his cynicism about men and women, falls prey to the thoughts and suspects his own husband Dean. When Laura finally learns the truth, she repents for believing a toxic man.

The whole film is founded on the give and take between this father and daughter duo, who like a stage play put their opinions about genders on the table, and it’s up to the audience, which one they want to feed upon. For me, I entertained both the arguments, and I am still thinking about them. That’s the beauty of a powerful narrative. It changes your thought process.

Billy Murray – Actor with Wits And Charms

Billy Murray is the lifeline of On the Rocks. But mind you, he isn’t the protagonist, he is a charming antagonist. He charms you to believe what he is saying is correct but when his cloak flies off, you kind of not hate, but don’t like this man anymore. However, that is his act. Billy Murray through Felix expresses a number of thoughts where he defends his own actions to cheat Laura’s mother. He says,

“Why is it that when a woman has an affair, it’s so wonderful that she has found someone. But if a man has an affair, he is banging his secretary?”

Felix defends himself further saying that the arrival of two daughters, intersected the light of love showered upon him, to the daughters. That created a void in him, and when someone, other than Laura’s mom looked at him with love, he wanted to glow again.

The similar case is happening between Laura and Dean. But Felix tricks her into thinking that all men are like Felix. Dean, he isn’t. Laura pursues Felix’s negativity, with thoughts like, “Can a man ever be satisfied with one woman.” However, she soon learns that a man’s mechanism and a woman’s instincts are much deeper than just putting them into categories. For each man and woman, meaning and approach to love and relationship are different.

When Laura understands this basic concept, she even verbalises it to Felix, “You are not an animal with no self-control. You can control your own behaviour.” Enough said it’s true, Felix had little control over his womanizing instincts that he has over the centuries conceptualised with facts from history and psychology just to defend his actions. While all the crumbs are entertaining, none of it seems true in the end, as it comes to the basic instinct of Self-control, in love and relationship.

On the Rocks underlines many grave and serious topics that threaten men and women relationships and will continue to do so, as they are different for each individual. But how Sofia Cappola has approached it in the film for the father-daughter duo, is exceptionally brilliant. She doesn’t put a serious note to any of it, not until the end and the melancholy of each such notion is supported by humour delivered precisely by Billy Murray.

As  François Truffaut said, “When humour can be made to alternate with melancholy, one has success, but when the same things are funny and melancholic at the same time, it’s just wonderful.”

These lines are adorably fulfilled by the narrative of On the Rocks, that doesn’t preach or makes anything gloomy but still, all those witty lines have melancholy of human nature, at its the foundation.

On the Rocks plays like a light Italian comedy that concludes while one is still recovering from all the chucks it offers.  It is a really important and entertaining film, that keeps wit and humour in text and reality and melancholy in subtext, thus a proper balancing act.

Do check out this amazing film by an Amazing Director. On the Rocks is streaming on Apple TV+.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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