ON THE ROCKS
You can safely assume that when there’s a name Coppola attached to the directorial status of a new film, there’s at the very least a slight inflation in the critical or ”hype” response. With On The Rocks, directed and written by Sofia Coppola, that’s the limbo I found myself in. Trying to find peace between domestic drama and kind-of-road comedy, married Laura (Rashida Jones) is suspecting that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) could be cheating on her and all the anxiety about that is doubled because Laura feels creatively stuck on her writing and mentally stuck because of busy home life. Laura’s womaniser father Felix (Bill Murray) comes to her aide to follow Dean around, and during the time they spend together, they bicker about their relationship and repressed feelings. As the movie lacks bite and consistency, wonderful leads elevate the mediocre material.
Jones and Murray are tasked with a lot of empty space to fill so it’s rather applaudable that you even care to stick around for the latter hour. They both are constantly able to match the other’s level when it’s called for. In comedic scenes that are filled with witty dialogue, it’s showcased best as things get funnier in a more low-key approach. In scenes that remind more of relationship drama and the characters reflect on Laura’s childhood, both actors manage to take a step back from being showy which serves the awkwardness well. Wayans and short lived appearances of Jenny Slate (as Vanessa) also compliment Jones’ performance. Actors deserve all the credit for making this as enjoyable as it can be.
On The Rocks’ lack of bite shows in the way that the story shifts between being built around drama about marriage and dry comedy making jokes about daughter and father. The conversations work because of the actors but most of them don’t move us when it comes to the main story. There are the ingredients of good character study of the two but when we try to follow a sort-of-mystery, it takes the edge off. You might feel a bit frustrated during it because it’s technically high-level all around but it’s hard to see anything specific which would show that this has Coppola’s handprint on the page or screen. Laura starts by being stuck and having nothing to write about to eventually having 60-something pages of material. That’s great for character building here but it could’ve used a few more pages of story to be ultimately fulfilling.
Smileys: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray
Even if you happen to like it more, I very much doubt you’ll ever watch it again.
Since I had never read the original novel by Daphne du Maurier, I purposefully didn’t want to watch the acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock adaptation from 1940 in preparation for this new remix of Rebecca from director Ben Wheatley. Nowadays when all the information is just a few Google searches and clicks away, it’s sometimes fun to go into a classic story with no preconceived notion or even expectations there for. Lily James stars as a young woman who quickly falls in love and gets married with a rich man Maxim de Winter (played by Armie Hammer), only to find that Maxim’s previous marriage, which left him a widow, wasn’t all roses and champagne. Throwing romantic drama, crime thriller and courtroom battles in to one period blender, it becomes an uneven and messy smoothie that only looks nice since it has no taste whatsoever.
Rebecca could easily be described with ”everything on the screen and none on the page” and you’d get the gist of it. You could make a whole art gallery exhibition with screenshots and stills from its luxurious period details and lavish establishing shots, ones that take full advantage of the beautiful seaside hills, long halls of the mansion and sunny beaches. Because the script is so dull, it’s a good thing that you can at least devour everything around the actors and still get something out of it. Costume design takes difficult colours of yellow, red and everything between those to make the characters look the part, shots have been colour graded tastefully and the set decoration lets even insert shots to have a proper chance. Everything is certainly on the screen.
What is this ”none” on the page then? The film starts with romantic themes, using them correctly and the last 20 minutes use the thriller elements while picking up the pace nicely as well. Problem lies within everything in the middle as it seems lost, misguided and underwritten. Wheatley not only loses any sense of genre or tension regarding the atmosphere, but also seems to leave the cast (James, Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas in a supporting role) behind. Dialogue is woeful as none of it feels like a real conversation.
That’s part of the biggest issue in the film, which is how the scenes play out. Normally a realistic scene begins with something that causes a reaction, then comes the reaction and then characters talk about it. Exciting movies shake up that structure to evoke emotion but in Rebecca, every scene starts with the reaction, then they explain what caused it with dialogue and then they talk about it with more dialogue. It just becomes draining when you always start at 100 and then water everything down by talking about it three times. You’re just playing one riff for two hours and everyone at the instrument store hates you for it.
Smileys: Locations, costume design
Frowneys: Directing, dialogue, atmosphere
I’ll get to the Hitchcock version someday, don’t @ me.