On the Rocks

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Bill Murray and Rashida Jones ride in a convertible in On the Rocks.

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Paul Asay

Movie Review

The kiss bothered her.

Come to think of it, the kiss itself was quite nice. Dean staggered in from a long business trip, tired and blurry. He practically fell in bed and gave his wife a long, romantic, passionate smooch—one so romantic and so passionate that Laura had almost forgotten what it felt like.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” he said, blinking—as if just realizing where he was. Dean stood up, walked out of the bedroom, and the moment was over.

It was if Dean thought that Laura was someone else.

Had it not been for the kiss, Laura might’ve not thought much about the woman’s toiletry bag she found in Dean’s suitcase the next morning—stocked, she saw, with body oil. (Dean says it was his assistant Fiona’s: He offered to carry it in his suitcase because she couldn’t put it in her carry-on.) She probably wouldn’t have worried about how pretty Fiona was, or how chummy she and Dean seemed to be at a party for Dean’s fledgling company.

And even with all that in play, Laura might not have shrugged her unease off if she’d felt more like herself—or, at least, the person whom Dean married all those years ago. Young. Beautiful. Confident. Talented.

Laura doesn’t feel like any of those things these days. She spends her mornings and afternoons shuffling her two daughters to school and ballet lessons. The time between, she stares at her computer screen—a writer who can’t write. When Dean looks at her, does he still see the woman he married? Or, as she confesses to a friend, “just the buzzkill that schedules things”?

She needs some advice from someone who loves her. Someone who knows her frontways and back. Someone who has insight into the male mind and understands the wandering eye.

She needs to talk with her father, Felix. Because if anyone understands cheating husbands, it’d be him.

Just ask Mom.

Positive Elements

Felix has plenty of weaknesses. But his biggest? His daughter. In a Lazy-Susan life filled with rotating women, Laura’s been his one-and-only constant, and he’d do pretty much anything for her.

Laura loves her pops, too, even if Felix can be exasperating. She grits her teeth when he makes a pass at a woman (and he seems to make passes at all of them). She rolls her eyes with every anthropological male-female relational factoid he blurts out. But Laura sees his considerable charm, too. And, of course, she sees how much he loves her. When the rest of her family turned their backs on Felix, Laura alone still embraced him. And their quirky, squabbly, father-daughter bond is occasionally a beautiful thing.

But Laura loves her husband, too. She loves the family they’ve built together. She wants to believe her hubby—even as she lets her dad talk her into an escalating game of surveillance.

[Spoiler Warning] Laura’s initial faith in her husband proves warranted. Dean loves his wife. And while he might be guilty of some ill-considered birthday gifts and taking his wife for granted, he remains as faithful as ever. While the road to discovery and reconciliation turns pretty rocky, Laura learns some valuable lessons along the way. She also gives her father a good, timely talking-to about the importance of personal responsibility.

Spiritual Elements

When it comes to male-female relationships, Felix scraps Cupid in favor of Darwin. “Males are [biologically] forced to dominate and to impregnate all females,” he tells Laura over lunch. He adds that men’s sexual predilections for certain types of females (smaller, higher voiced and with “little to no beard”) were developed when “humans walked on all fours.”

Felix also chides Laura for not wanting to celebrate her birthday. “The celebration of the day of one’s birth was originally a pagan tradition,” he says. “Christians originally didn’t celebrate it for exactly that reason. Now, we’re past that, aren’t we?”

Laura and Felix drive by an impressive cathedral.

Sexual Content

We first meet Laura and Dean during their wedding. The two are enduring the wedding banquet when Dean decides to pull Laura away and into the bowels of the hotel. In the scene, Dean lounges in a swimming pool as Laura walks toward the water wearing just her veil and birthday suit. (We see Laura’s backside, slightly obscured by her diaphanous veil, before she runs and jumps in.)

That’s the only blatant sexual scene in the film, though obviously sex and fidelity form the hook from which the plot all hangs.

In addition to the kiss discussed in the introduction, Laura and Dean kiss several more times in the movie, though most are merely pecks on the mouth. Laura speculates about the body oil she finds in Dean’s suitcase and checks his phone for incriminating texts. Eventually, she and Felix begin tailing Dean all around New York City and beyond.

Felix points to an alleged double standard when it comes to infidelity. “Why is it that when a woman has an affair, it’s ‘so wonderful she found someone,’ but if a man has an affair, he’s ‘banging his secretary’?”

Felix has a vested interest in a sympathetic answer to the above. He had an affair of his own that broke up Laura’s happy family. (Laura accuses her dad of forcing her, as a kid, to “keep your secrets.”)

When Laura accuses her father of hitting on every woman they see, that seems pretty close to the truth. He compliments waitresses, ballet instructors and women he simply walks by, often staring at them for a beat-and-a-half too long. When they run into a “client” of Felix’s at a restaurant, he stands up to greet her, and the two stand about six inches apart—suggesting that their relationship wasn’t purely business. Laura calls Felix when her dad’s in Paris: She overhears Felix asking an unseen someone if that’s a birthmark he sees, again hinting at an intimate encounter.

Felix insists that men are genetically disposed to sleeping around, arguing that “monogamy in marriage is based on the concept of property” and that bangle bracelets are a holdover from when women were “owned” by men. He does note some exceptions to the rule of male dominance, though: Bonobo chimpanzee societies are headed by females, and he mentions a Canadian cult in which women hold men captive. If they ever show an urge to leave, the women encourage them to stay through sex. (Laura quips that it sounds more like Felix’s ultimate fantasy.)

We hear descriptive, but relatively clinical, conversation about female body parts. A “friend” of Laura’s talks constantly about the sexual relationship she’s having. (In the end, her paramour is discovered to be married, and the woman ends the affair.) We see women in nightgowns and bathrobes. Felix convinces Laura to act like his girlfriend to throw off a hotel security guard. (“This is truly a new low,” Laura tells him.) On television, a stand-up comic talks about how marriage is the death-knell of a certain form of intimacy. We see a couple of guys go shirtless. There’s an allusion to a vaguely masochistic relationship that Felix was involved with.

Violent Content

None.

Crude or Profane Language

Three f-words—all during a televised comic’s stand-up routine. We also hear one s-word, and one or two uses of a few other milder profanities. God’s name is misused at least eight times, and Jesus’ name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Laura and Felix both drink frequently during the film, though not excessively, it seems. During lunch, Felix orders a “Cutty on the rocks” for himself and a “Bombay martini for the kid.” Martinis seem to be a particularly popular beverage for both; beer and wine are both served during meals and get-togethers, too.

When the two are tailing Dean and his assistant to parts unknown, they’re pulled over by police. One of them notices a bottle of liquor in the car, but Felix tells them that it’s unopened: He and Laura were going to save it for later.

Felix smokes a cigar.

Other Negative Elements

Certainly, Dean does not follow the “Billy Graham Rule” of business: He and his coworker, Fiona, spend a great deal of time together, sometimes unchaperoned.

For many, that would be a “negative element” right there, but it also precipitates other negative behavior: A suspicious Laura, instead of confronting Dean or talking the matter through, decides to spy on her husband instead—encouraged by her well-meaning-but-duplicitous father.

And even when she wants to talk it out with Dean, Felix persuades her not to. “At some point we can make a decision about whether to tap his phone,” the well-connected Felix says. Not exactly great to build the trust that all good marriages are built on.

Conclusion

Whether or not Dean is having an affair is, in On the Rocks, almost beside the point. But the story’s still a love triangle: husband, wife … and Dad.

As Laura frets over her husband’s suspected activities, Felix flings himself into the investigation with gusto. He hires private detectives. He convinces Laura to tail her own husband. Even though Laura’s marriage hangs in the balance, these stakeouts become great daddy-daughter time for Felix—a chance to be with, perhaps, the only woman he ever truly loved.

“Can you act just a little less excited about this?!” Laura tells him.

I get it. As a dad of a grown-and-married daughter, I know just how precious that time with your little girl can be. 

The Bible doesn’t waste any time in laying out the hierarchy of what family looks like, though. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” Gen. 2:24 says. That goes for daughters, too. While moms and dads can still be a huge part of their kids’ lives, they’re not running the show anymore. That’s something that Laura and Felix both learn. Viewers can learn it, too—and On the Rocks makes the lesson relatively painless.

The film, directed by Sofia Coppola and anchored by Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones and quasi-national treasure Bill Murray, is a quirky, comical look at marriage and family. And while it earns its R rating, it’s almost by technicality. Take out about a minute of content—three f-words uttered by a TV comic and a glimpse of a veiled, bare backside—and this would land in PG-13 territory, easy.

That doesn’t mean On the Rocks is suitable for kids, of course. Given that the entire movie is predicated on infidelity (or the possibility thereof), it most certainly isn’t. But for adults navigating their own important, sometimes prickly relationships, On the Rocks is filled with teachable moments, cautionary scenes and plenty of discussion points. Sure, the film is rocky in spots. But the ride is smoother than you might expect.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.