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Drive-Away Dolls (A Movie Review)


Starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon, Joey Slotnick, C. J. Wilson, Connie Jackson, Annie Gonzalez, Gordon MacDonald, Sam Vartholomeos, John Menchion, Michael Counihan, Abby Hilden, Haley Holmes, Fatima Barlow, Sam Mazzei, Jordan Zatawski and Miley Cyrus.

Screenplay by  Ethan Coen.

Directed by Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke.

Distributed by Focus Features. 84 minutes. Rated R.

The latest example of the Coen Brothers gone solo is this surprisingly funny (and slightly naughty) road trip comedy written by Ethan Coen and his wife Tricia Cooke.

For decades Joel and Ethan Coen were a team – creating such classics as Blood Simple, Fargo, No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski. However, they have not done a film together since The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which came out over five years ago. Ethan decided to take a break from filmmaking, wanting to focus on the theater for a bit. Joel went solo on the 2021 Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth.

In 2022, Ethan dipped his toe back into filmmaking with the documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind. Then he went all in on this film, co-writing and directing on his own. However, in a 2023 interview with Empire magazine, Ethan did hint that he was working on a new project idea with Joel, so it looks like the time apart is just a break and not a complete breakup between the siblings.

Still, Drive-Away Dolls does make you wonder what else Ethan can come up with all on his own. It’s certainly one of the funniest of the Coen movies and feels looser and less serious than the brothers’ work. It also downplays (but doesn’t totally abandon) the sudden moments of violence which are so important to the Coens’ work. And when the violence does come up, it’s mostly cartoonish and played for laughs.

It has certain other Coen hallmarks –the bickering, philosophical hit men, the nude sunbathing next-door neighbor (just like in A Serious Man), and the oddball tourist traps.

However, mostly it is a buddy road trip from Philadelphia to Florida right around the turn of the millennium, with two lesbians being chased by a group of gangsters who are looking for a suitcase that is in the car they are driving south.

The briefcase is a bit of a McGuffin, much like the case in Pulp Fiction. In fact, once you actually find out what is in the case, it turns out to be a bit of a letdown, although it makes a certain amount of loopy sense in the world of this film.

The two women driving around with this briefcase are Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan). They are long-time best friends although they are polar opposites. Jamie is a wild and impulsive lesbian, always looking for fun and never sticking with the same girlfriends for very long. Marian is more introverted, shy and is still holding a torch for her last ex, who she broke up with three years earlier.

Marian is tired of her dead-end job and her life and she decides to visit her aunt in Florida. Jamie, who just had an ugly breakup with her latest girlfriend (Beanie Feldstein), who caught her cheating, and is suddenly homeless, decides to tag along. Jamie figures they can have a wild time, finding gay bars and parties in each town they hit, and maybe even getting the repressed Marian laid on the way.

They hook up with a car service, where they agree to deliver a car to Florida in exchange for the use of the car. Unfortunately, they don’t know there is a secret in the trunk that has a series of bad guys willing to kill to retrieve.

Drive-Away Dolls isn’t exactly deep, nor is it at all serious, and it doesn’t always make sense. However, it is fun and funny – sort of reminiscent of the Coens’ Raising Arizona – and that makes the flaws a lot easier to overlook. Unlike much of his work with his brother, Drive-Away Dolls will not get any Oscar buzz. Still, it’s more fun than you’d expect.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: February 23, 2024.


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