‘On the Rocks’ is Sofia Coppola’s seventh feature film (not counting Netflix’s 2015 Christmas Special ‘A Very Murray Christmas’), which is filled to the brim with the acclaimed director’s characteristic light and feminine aesthetics. It is told through the perspective of Laura (Rashida Jones), a woman in her late 30s suspecting her workaholic husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), of infidelity.
She reaches out to her behavioral theory-spouting, roguishly-charming father, Felix (Bill Murray), for advice. He immediately agrees with all her suspicions and eagerly offers his help. Together, they embark on an emotional journey across New York (and later Mexico) that resonates with bittersweet nostalgia as well as a sense of paranoia. SPOILERS AHEAD!
On the Rocks Plot Synopsis
The film begins with a brief conversation between Felix and a much younger Laura that effectively sets up both the tone and the predominant theme of the film. He says to her even before the first scene appears on the screen, “And remember, don’t give your heart to any boys.” The film takes a break from showing the credits, so the audience is only focused on the interaction. “You’re mine until you get married,” adds Felix. “Then you’re still mine.” Likely not knowing how to respond to this declaration, the young Laura laughs and says, “OK, Dad.”
The story then shifts to the present time, several decades later. Laura is a New York-based author who is experiencing writer’s block and spends considerable time each day staring blankly at the computer screen. She shares her large, cozy Soho apartment with her husband Dean and their two daughters. Dean is a successful, albeit relatively new entrepreneur with clients in Europe and all over North America. His hectic schedule keeps him in transit for the most part.
Whenever Dean is home, any intimate moment with his wife tends to carry a risk of interruption from their daughters. They accept this lack of an active sex life, as most parents would, as one of the sacrifices they must make to raise children. While Dean seems unaware of it, this is affecting Laura. She is frustrated because her literary career is going nowhere. She is constantly tired because she has to perform the day-to-day responsibilities of parenthood on her own, with Dean being busy and out most of the time.
Laura is acutely aware that he is surrounded by beautiful women at his work. Laura is especially uncomfortable about the apparent closeness between Dean and one of his employees, the young and beautiful Fiona (Jessica Henwick). But her insecurities do not culminate in paranoia until she speaks with her friends and family about them, particularly her father.
On the Rocks Ending
After Laura spots certain things about her husband that she considers evidence of his affair, she speaks about her fears to her father. According to Felix, who is a life-long playboy and has cheated on a number of women, including Laura’s mother, men are bound by biology to seek out multiple partners. The father-and-daughter duo launches a clandestine operation of spying on Dean. He tells her to check Dean’s phone for incriminatory messages while he arranges for his son-in-law to be secretly followed and photographed by a private investigator.
Neither unearths any salacious secret, but Felix informs Laura that Dean has bought something from a Cartier store. This surprises Laura, as all she has gotten for her birthday is a Thermomix, intensifying her suspicions. She is further surprised when Felix tells her that Dean is going away for a trip to a Mexican resort. She tells her father that she has no knowledge of it. Although Dean later speaks to her about the trip, Laura decides to travel to Mexico with her father to catch her husband in the act.
A Father’s Fears of Mortality
Ultimately, all of Laura’s fears prove to be misplaced. By the time she attempts to confront Dean, he has already left for home in New York. His room at the resort is occupied by Fiona and her girlfriend. Later, Laura unleashes all her pent-up anger and fury on Felix, accusing him of being selfish and not wanting to see her happy. She calls him out on his treatment of her mother and warns him that he has to really start listening to women if he wants to continue to be part of his daughters’ and granddaughters’ lives.
Back in New York, Felix once more arrives at her doorstep. This time a much more sober conversation takes place between them. She tells him, “next time, just ask me if you wanna spend some time together.” That line perfectly surmises Felix’s behavior throughout the film. In one of the earlier scenes, he speaks about a former lover, the one with whom he cheated on Laura’s mother. The woman, Holly, recently passed away at the age of 50 and it has clearly affected Felix.
In a rare show of vulnerability and despair, the generally flamboyant former art dealer expresses his disbelief about the death. “I never thought that I would outlive her,” he says. Since the moment he makes his first physical appearance on the screen, Felix exudes a sense of timelessness. He is absolutely fearless in his pursuit of happiness in life, flirting with any woman he meets, driving his vintage car through the streets of New York with uninhibited joy, and even charming a police officer with the tales of his grandfather. But Holly’s death has forced him to evaluate his own mortality.
So, when Laura, the person he is likely closest to, reaches out for fatherly advice about her troubled marriage, he enthusiastically takes on the role. The problem is, his suggestions stem from his own experience as a playboy and a series of flings he has had with a myriad of women. The intricacies of long-term relationships are completely and painfully lost on him. Felix doesn’t understand that there has to be a mutual sense of trust for any marriage to survive, and immediately after hearing about Laura’s problems, he concludes that Dean is probably cheating.
Laura, feeling lost and unsure due to her current professional and personal circumstances, reluctantly agrees to gather evidence on the matter. However, after Mexico, she sees how ridiculous all of it was and lashes out at him. Ultimately, she forgives Felix, knowing that it was his desperate effort to spend more time with her. While creating the character, Sofia Coppola might have drawn from her experience with her own father – Francis Ford Coppola. Felix has this effortless ability to draw the attention of every person in the room. Coppola has likely been in quite a few rooms like that with her own father.
A Relationship Mends
After she comes back to New York, Laura and Dean finally have a much-needed conversation, in which they pour out their respective fears and trepidations. It turns out that Dean has his own share of insecurities and is trying to be the best provider for his family. It’s a sobering moment for both of them. Dean realizes that he has been flunking his duties to his family while trying to grow his business, while Laura discovers that as she wallowed in her own misery, and has overlooked that her husband was suffering as well.
They reconcile and return to their daughters. Laura’s personal happiness positively influences her productivity, and she starts writing again. The closing scenes leave the audience with the promise that things will be different between the couple from now on. The reason Dean was at a Cartier store earlier is that he was getting an engraved watch for Laura. He gives it to her while they are at a restaurant. She takes off the vintage one that Felix gave her and puts the Cartier on.
The symbolism of this moment revolves around who Laura has become. She is not Felix’s little girl any longer. Now, she is a wife, mother, and author. Her priorities are different. Dean is now the most important man in her life. She then places Felix’s watch inside the empty watch box and closes the lid. The moment serves as a metaphor for Laura leaving behind the past and embracing her future.
Read More: Where Was On the Rocks Filmed?