2020 Movie Review Catch-up #2 – On the Rocks, Lovers Rock

In my rapid fire end-of-year move catch-up, I have been watching films which run the gamut on the quality spectrum. I want to share some brief thoughts on two more of these films.

On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola’s latest, On the Rocks, is missing something. There is a kernel of emotional oomph, a smidgen of tension, missing from this film. As a result, the film becomes this light hors d’oeuvres of a thing. At the heart of the film is the relationship between Laura (Rashida Jones) and her father Felix (Bill Murray), being presented to the audience while they team up to investigate the potential adultery of Laura’s husband (Marlon Wayans).

The interplay between Jones and Murray is the selling point of the film. There is a significant chemistry to their rapport that makes much of this film watchable. Yet, the narrative that drives this relationship comes off like a MacGuffin. The stakes of this possible affair are continually deflating as the film progresses, resulting in an emotionally simplistic shrug of a conclusion.

On the Rocks: B-


Lovers Rock

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe miniseries is one of the more ambitious projects I’ve seen crop up on streaming in a long time. Initially appearing on BBC One in the United Kingdom, it has come to the States in the form of an Amazon Original. Essentially, McQueen is using the framing of stories about West Indian immigrants in London as an outlet to direct five feature films of varying lengths. It is remarkable on its face to see five films from a single writer-director (co-writer in some instances) released week after week for five weeks. It is similarly remarkable to see how McQueen provides slightly different approaches to each story while giving the entire miniseries continuity on a a few key fronts (namely, the soundtrack).

Lovers Rock is a high point for the series. Borderline experimental in its lack of dialogue or concrete narrative progression, it is a 70-minute expression of sonic beauty. It is a celebration of music and movement and the visceral emotional bonds formed through a shared dance floor. Tension and relief come in waves throughout the piece, ebbing and flowing with the motion of the reggae music that dominates the soundtrack.

As a result, the film is a purely sensory experience unlike any I’ve experienced in media in 2020. So much so that distilling such an experience into words is a useless gesture, a fool’s errand which I will no longer attempt to carry out. Lovers Rock should be seen, heard, and felt on its own terms.

Lovers Rock: B+


As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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