In ‘On The Rocks’ a Wife and Mother Rediscovers Herself

There is a parental tax that most women pay in heteronormative relationships. It’s a cost that their male partners would never even dream of considering. Though we are well into the 21st century and most women have their own thriving careers across various fields, society still clings to ancient depictions of motherhood. Most of the parenting falls heavily upon women. This happens despite the fullness of their humanity and their goals in other aspects of their lives. 

When a woman dares to make a different choice for herself or her family, strangers and loved ones boldly question those decisions, causing many women to second guess themselves — surrounding their happiness for a hallow portrait of domesticity. In Sofia Coppola’s melancholy yet compelling On The Rocks, we follow Laura (Rashida Jones), a writer, mother, and wife, trying to find her way through the monotony of family life. Though she appears to have it all, her continually absent husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), whose burgeoning start-up keeps him on planes, in different meetings, and on other continents, and her child-focused days begin to cause her to question everything. 

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in “On The Rocks
Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in “On The Rocks | Apple TV +

In ‘On The Rocks’ Laura is increasingly unsettled

When we first meet Laura, she’s desperate ting to stay afloat. Though she’s not exactly “unhappy,” it’s clear that something is missing in her life. She exists between mad dashes through the streets of New York City to her daughter’s school where self-absorbed moms (Jenny Slate) go on about their affairs. 

In her quiet office mid-day, she tries to write the words for her next book during her toddler’s nap times. However, those moments seem empty and anxiety-filled. Increasingly uncertain about herself and the direction of her life, when Dean’s behavior begins to shift, Laura finds herself turning to the one person who might understand her perspective — her womanizing and ever-charming father, Felix (Bill Murray).

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‘On The Rocks’ is a film about family

Though their father/daughter relationship is fraught with the blimps and hurt of Felix’s past indiscretions, Laura knows exactly who her father is. Desperate for a sliver of excitement and to determine what’s really going on with her husband, Laura allows herself to be swept into to Felix’s frenzy, eventually finding herself coconspirator of a stakeout in her father’s cherry red sports car, with a spread of caviar, cheese, and crackers on her lap. 

More than just a film on marriages and parenting, On the Rocks says a lot about family. Millennials have shifted and evolved somehow when it comes to marriages, and understanding our parents as human beings. Sometimes the relationships that we saw growing up were rife with sexism, unhappiness, and inequality. This film is about our choices and learning to trust our own decisions while communicating our needs and desires effectively to our partners. 

In ‘On The Rocks’ Laura must learn to trust herself again

From the beginning, Laura seems aware that Dean, the man who convinced her to go skinny dipping during their wedding reception, is not at all like her self-centered father. However, overcome with apprehension and fear and finding little space for herself, she allows herself to be swept away by Felix, his sexist rhetoric, and the poor examples that were shown to her in the past. 

What’s interesting here is that Laura is never truly looking to Felix for any answers. Though she asks him point-blank why he chose to engage in the affair that shattered her parents’ marriage, she never accepts his lack of accountability. Instead, Coppola’s film is about a woman unpacking the person hidden under the titles of wife and mother. On the Rocks is about trusting the seeds you planted to grow and flourish even when they seem buried at the moment.