By Andrew Harwood

As an amateur critic, I like to pride myself on reviewing and recommending an array of films for my readers. But, at the same time, I’m not necessarily doing my part if all I do is list and talk about great films.

In no way do I think I should be bashing films on this platform, because that seems unfair, but I’m fortunate enough to have a platform in general to voice my opinion. 

Given that, I strive to provide my audience with both informative and evaluative content that can help guide them in their viewing process. What follows is not a review of hate or ridicule, but of opinion. 

This week on Cinephilia, we will be focusing on Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks.”

Written and directed by Coppola, “On the Rocks” tells the story of Laura, a Manhattan mother and author, played by Rashida Jones, who starts to have second doubts about her husband’s fidelity.

As her doubts grow, Laura enlists the help of her playboy and carefree father, played by Bill Murray, as the two embark upon a journey involving detective work and booze. 

Where this film shines is its image, color and sound. A film set in the aesthetic scenes of lower Manhattan encapsulates bustle and rhythm through impeccable frames of these locations. 

There’s literally not a single bad shot in this film, something that Coppola has achieved before, which helps propel the film on an artistic basis.

But, just as she did in her other film “Marie Antoinette,” Coppola sides with style over substance. It’s splendid, to say the least, to look at meticulously framed shots accompanied by orchestral scores, But soon enough, it becomes stale. 

This isn’t to say the entirety of the film is stale, because it isn’t, but the film lacks an immersive element that one can attribute to the lack of drive brought forth by Jones’ character. 

Laura is a wife, a mother and an author with writer’s block, but all she seems to truly invest in is her husband. I don’t want this to come off as ignorant, but there isn’t any specific moment we can empathize with Laura’s situation.

She throws away responsibilities, including her kids, to carelessly travel around with her father. Obviously, this is to build the bond between the two characters, but at the same time, their relationship is already quite solid.

Coppola frames her protagonist around forming relationships, yet at the same time, we see very little of that. 

For a film that runs for 96 minutes, a viewer can expect very little in regard to substance, something that can be attributed to Coppola’s screenplay.

Again, my intention is not to bash this film, because in no way do I believe it is a bad film, but I strive to dissect and analyze films for the benefit of the reader. 

Dialogue flows in patches, ranging from fluid to sometimes unbearable. The acting is polarizing — an issue we can credit to the rather inorganic dynamic between Jones and Murray. Murray shines as Jones’ carefree father, yet Jones fails to meet Murray’s stardom.

Again, this can’t necessarily be accredited to Jones herself, given the screenplay work from Coppola. 

At its heart, “On the Rocks” is a film without a genre. Is it a romance film? Is it a rom-com? Is it a situational drama? Yes? All of the above? Even though the sole focus of the film is about a romance on the rocks, we rarely get a glimpse of such edgy romance. 

In a way, the true romance is between Jones and Murray, who get more screen time than Jones and her husband. Aside from that, Coppola relies too much on the wit of Murray and the situational comedy that comes with his presence to push away the generic conventions of romantic drama.

The almost-forgotten question of fidelity between spouses isn’t lost, but is instead bogged down by the intricacy that is Jones’ character. 

In yet another instance of style over substance, Coppola shines in presence — but not in context.

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