By Sam Stashower ’22
I first saw Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s first collaboration with Bill Murray, about five or so years ago, and at first I didn’t get it. I thought it was slow, and ponderous, and that it didn’t really have the depth to back its languid pace up. Then it kept going, and something inside me just *clicked*. Maybe it was the fact that I spent a fair amount of my childhood suffering from jet lag before visiting relatives in Scotland, and I finally clocked to that being the vibe the movie was going for. Maybe it was something else, something to do with the film’s central theme about loneliness, and wanting to connect in a world you don’t recognize. I don’t know. Either way, Lost in Translation ended up being a movie I wasn’t super hot on at the start, but by the time the final scene rolled around, I had gotten something real out of it.
Now they’re back together, Murray and Coppola, in their first proper film collaboration since Lost in Translation (they’d previously done a 2015 Netflix Christmas special, but that’s it). The plot this time around has to do with Rashida Jones, playing Murray’s daughter, who begins to suspect infidelity on the part of her husband (Marlon Wayans, 50 Shades of Black). She’s been estranged from her father ever since he and her mother divorced following an affair, but he’s the one she turns to. He jumps at the chance to engrain himself in her life, offering her words of wisdom and advice on the true nature of man, and animal instincts, and the psychology of romance.
I have to say, I don’t think it was quite as good as Lost in Translation. The direction is flat, with the film affecting a very gray color palette that only really picks up in the nighttime sequences. It’s a deliberate choice, meant to underline the rut that Jones finds herself in, but it doesn’t work. It creates a boring movie to look at, which, for as lethargic as some of Lost in Translation could be, that movie never was. And the conversations Jones and Murray have are charming, but very basic. Murray’s “theories” about male psychology vs the female one, and gender relationships, are nothing you won’t have heard a million times before, and while the underlying character motivations behind them are resonant – the one woman this famous womanizer can’t win over is his own daughter, and she’s ultimately the only person whose opinion of him he values – it does lend to a certain repetitiveness in most of their scenes together, which is especially deadly for a movie that’s only 90 minutes long.
But I still got something out of On the Rocks, and it has to do with the same kind of universality that was present in Lost in Translation. See, I saw this movie as a form of distraction from the current events, which at this point are out of my hands. I woke up early yesterday morning, realized it was going to be a long day of indecision, and then spent a while planning out a method by which I could reasonably avoid checking the news or Twitter every couple of seconds. Because that’s what yesterday was, and that’s what today is currently shaping up to be; a whole bunch of sitting, waiting, and hoping. You know that at this point, you’ve done your part, but in some ways that only makes you feel worse, more helpless.
So I weirdly connected a lot to this movie, which mostly sees Rashida Jones waiting for the other shoe to drop. She grows suspicious early, starts testing the waters subtly, asking one or two pointed (but not too pointed) questions, and then once her dad forces himself into the picture, she starts following her husband to his work, to restaurants, and in one rather extreme instance, to Mexico, all the while waiting for the worst to be confirmed. And typing that out, I’ve made her actions sound more active than they really were, when in fact she spends a lot of this time sitting back and waiting, preparing for the worst.
Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is something we’re all familiar with, so this isn’t exactly a moment-specific movie Coppola has made. But it still feels especially relevant, today of all days. Waiting for uncertain news is one of the worst things in the world, because all it does is leave you with time, endless time, with nothing to do but imagine how bad the eventual bad news might be. Right now, the whole country seems to exist in this weird liminal space, a limbo where everything seems to hang in the balance, and yet it’s all so maddeningly still.
On the Rocks, to no one’s surprise, ends on a hopeful note. This isn’t a spoiler, as it’s clear from its opening minutes that this isn’t the type of movie to go any other way. I bring this up because, at time of writing, we still don’t know how this whole situation is going to pan out. It’s looking like things might turn out for the best, but at this point, it’s hard for me to even allow myself that degree of hope. But in situations like this, where you’ve done what you can and all that’s left is the waiting, sometimes hope is all you have.