A bar in L.A. serves as a meeting spot for many potentially romantic dates. There are also potential sparks behind the bar, as the two bartenders, Charlie and Jessie, share a rapport that zings with energy and familiarity.
But Charlie is meeting another woman after his shift is over, sending Jessie's hopes plunging. But over one night, romance takes its own course, and it's anything but straightforward.
Directed by Patrick Hickman and written by Stefani Zabner (who also plays a role in the film), this short romance captures the buzz of L.A. nightlife and the vagaries of dating and love in the modern age. Focusing on a loosely connected community of barflies and bartenders, the narrative takes advantage of its bustling and socially diverse setting to explore a cross-section of romantic hopes and dreams, revealing both modern and eternal anxieties when it comes to finding love.
The visuals -- rendered in warm, woozy naturalistic cinematography and handheld camerawork -- are as loose and amiable as the storytelling, which observes the quirks of its characters with a keen but affectionate eye. The dialogue luxuriates in the give-and-take between people, with a good ear for their hidden agendas and subtexts. One date between a type-A optimizer and her more laidback prospect reveals a promising spark and attraction, but the bartenders' romantic potential with one another goes downhill with each beat.
The collective cast finds a solid balance between an understated realism and the stylization of the comedic banter. Actors Matt Garcia and Zabner particularly excel at the genuine sincerity of hope and longing underlying their wit and sarcasm. That hope and longing become more pointed and poignant as the night wears on, but confronting their disappointment might just open them up to other possibilities they've never considered before.
Shakespeare's famous line, "The course of true love never did run smooth," applies easily to "On the Rocks," which explores the old maxim with modern wit and mores. And that truth is something the film's characters learn throughout the night, as their prospects ebb and flow with one another. In the end, maybe they find true love, or maybe it's more "love for right now." The film itself has a wry knowingness about love's prospects amid dating's random anarchy, no matter how much we try to "game" it. But it's not about the end point for these characters. Instead, it's more about the journey, and being pulled along each stop by a sense of possibility that's almost as intoxicating as love itself.