Rated R, but mostly because the movie is about adultery. There's a lot of innuendo and Bill Murray's character revels in his sexual conquests. In terms of anything visually offensive, I don't remember too much. The language can get pretty intense, especially when the f-word is used to describe the sexual act. But it's an on-the-verge of being PG-13 R rated movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
I think I have too many expectations for Sofia Coppola. I mean, I love Marie Antoinette too much. I might be the only one still talking about it, I'm so obsessed. The same thing holds true about Bill Murray coupled with Sofia Coppola. I mean, in my head, I was getting another Lost in Translation. How is it fair to judge any movie by those expectations? I wouldn't want a director to keep making the same movie over and over, yet my heart wants more of the same. And maybe it is because the tone is so somber in this one. Like, it is a bleak look at aging and marriage and that's just hitting me a bit too hard. Movies are now directed at my age for the older stuff. Movies about people my age aren't about parties and good time. They are about marriages falling apart and fundamental distrust. How is that a good time?
So then, there's me, wanting to find a good movie to watch with my wife that has us have a good time and all we can see is a husband working too much and a wife who thinks he's having an affair. We were ready for "I want candy" over a montage about trying on shoes and instead we're left in Bleaksberg? How can I judge a movie for being too morose when its goal was to be morose? I mean, in my head, I don't see anything wrong with this movie. It's not like it is absent of fun. There's definitely fun in the movie. That scene in the convertible was absolutely darling. Like, I know that there are all kinds of problematic behavior happening there. It's not like Felix is necessarily a role model. But there's something very endearing about that scene, assuming you divorce the context of why they are there in that moment to begin with. Felix trying to perform a tail of Laura's husband with the most obtrusive way absolutely plays like my favorite moments of a Sofia Coppola movie. Similarly, the fact that he knows the cop's dad and grandfather feels like something all dads probably do. It's this moment where Felix's embracing of his problematic behavior plays out the way it always does in his head. Laura gets to see Felix the way that other people see Felix and it is phenomenally charming.
But what is the movie saying about cheating? I really wanted Dean to get caught. I don't know why. I'm going to try to explore that right now, but I also know that there's something really toxic inside me brewing to see him get caught. We know that Felix's behavior is crossing a line. Felix has written this narrative for Dean based on his own persona. His dislike of Dean is a criticism on himself. If Felix, a man who is fun and personable, can do absolutely awful things to his family, there has to be a justification saying that worse people do far worse. Because as much as there's nothing wrong with Dean, we've been trained to think that working too much is the warning sign of villainy for the emotional drama. Yeah, Dean actually kind of sucks because he goes to late night parties and doesn't spend the time with his family that they need. I mean, it is overt when he doesn't have time to spend with his wife on her birthday. It's even more troubling that he just books Mexico without consulting her. (Is this a world where text messaging doesn't affect a workday? Maybe I shouldn't be confessing this here.)
But Dean is also exclusively shown through the lens of an unreliable narrator. The movie is shown almost exclusively through the eyes of Laura. Her paranoia quickly becomes our paranoia. In our minds, Dean has to be cheating because that thought entered Laura's mind. Similarly, I can't help but feel like Sofia Coppola's understanding of formula is a bit of a mislead. After all, if I found circumstantial evidence of my spouse's infidelity, there wouldn't be a certain guarantee. Instead, Coppola is playing with a Chekhov's gun. We see signs of infidelity, we assume that this is a movie about a woman finding a cheating husband. And they got me. I kept on questioning in the back of my head "What if Dean really is just working late and sucks at communication?", but I never took that voice seriously. After all, this is a movie. Laura's phobias have to be right because she is the protagonist of the piece and the only information we get are through Laura's blinders.
Instead, this movie chooses to condemn Felix. For as much as Dean should be communicating with Laura more and making time for her more, he is trying the best he can to be a good husband and father. Trying should matter for something. It's actually Laura (and I really don't want to victim blame a fictional character) who lacks communication with Dean about her fears. The lesson that Laura learns is that she should have just straight up asked her husband where he is all of the time. She should have verbalized her fears about Fiona. If she had, she would have discovered Fiona's sexual identity and a lot of her fears would have been put to rest. Instead, Felix is the one left high and dry and looking ugly in this movie. Felix, because he's Bill Murray, comes across as the good guy who is really the bad guy. He's the toxic friend (or, in this case, father) who makes himself look good by making other people look bad. He thrives on Laura's insecurities and revels in the idea that he's there when she most needs her. He's a crutch when she should be learning how to walk tall by herself. Yet, all of his choices make sense. He's a guy who loves his daughter and is trying to bury a lifetime of screwups. This is the opportunity to not only cement the hero worship that his daughter has, but also to make her see him in a new light. After all, she has always probably resented the way that he treated her mom and he has this opportunity. The worst part is that he probably isn't even aware that he's doing this.
For the first time in his life, I think Felix feels like the hero. He uses his own lifestyle as a roadmap to save his daughter. He couldn't save his wife from himself, but he can save his daughter from being hurt the way his wife was hurt. Felix thinks that he is on the redemptive path all along, but he's really just stoking the embers of Laura's fragility. And as much as he consciously doesn't see himself as the bad guy, he subconsciously knows the truth. When Laura blows up at him, she is the one who sees the toxic behavior that the two of them have been indulging. But in a masterful choice for Bill Murray, Felix seems to have realized it all along. He simply shifts his perspective in that moment to understand what he has always been. It's been the thing keeping him up at all hours and now it has voice.
So as much as I didn't absolutely love On the Rocks, it's mostly because I wanted it to be something else. There's nothing wrong with this movie. If anything, it feels like a Woody Allen movie than it does a Sofia Coppola film, but that's okay. It does its job as a small thinkpiece rather than a bombastic tour de force.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.