“He’s a blue chip prospect!”
Do you have it in you to watch a man’s life fall apart, bit by painful bit? Do you have it in you to laugh?
Most known to me for their incredible web-series Kill The Baby, Alex Kavutskiy & Ariel Gardner’s micro-budget feature debut On the Rocks is a bravura exercise in sustained discomfort, hilarious and tragic in equal measure.
Chase Fein plays Dallas – a hangdog palooka with a kind heart and a recently deceased father. We follow him as he attempts to find stability and peace following this confrontation with mortality. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Karen (Nichole Bagby) is an insecure wreck, her older sister (Kate Freund) is an angrily supportive echo chamber, and her younger sister needs a place to live. Plus, his boss is an asshole, his AA meetings have given him a lonely crush, he doesn’t have a bed, his car won’t start, and his new house smells like his dead dad.
Over the course of an hour and a half, Kavutskiy and Gardner’s film systematically breaks down Dallas, pushing him from the only sane one in a room of lunatics to a self-destructive alcoholic just as worthy of his friends and family as they are of him. Shot in escalating long takes to the tunes of chaotic jazz, the writers/directors take the overlapping cacophonies that defined Altman’s work and twists them to new, hilariously bitter heights. Fein is delightful in the lead, his broken-down charisma grounding the film around him, but its his co-stars that get most of the laughs. Freund, in particular, has a blast playing the step-sister from hell, and Bagby maintains a ridiculous petulance that eventually gives way to something powerfully sad. While this descent into hell is consistently mean-spirited (in the funniest way possible), it’s the poignancy around the edges that give On the Rocks its staying power. By the end, when Dallas has been definitively broken by an actively shitty world, the only thing he has left are the people around him. Now, those people may have burned him, destroyed him in some respects – but they also care for him, they always come back to him somehow. The people are what matters. Of course that’s simple, but that simplicity feels like a blessing compared to the swirling hell that surrounds the message. When life is so unbearably confusing, something cliche can take you a long way.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s tough. Good luck to both of you.”