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Movie Review: ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ | Moviefone




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Margaret Qualley as "Jamie" and Geraldine Viswanathan as "Marian" in director Ethan Coen's 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian” in director Ethan Coen’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

In theaters now is ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, Pedro Pascal, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, and Matt Damon.

Related Article: Geraldine Viswanathan, Margaret Qualley and Beanie Feldstein Talk ‘Drive-Away Dolls’

Initial Thoughts

With the Coen brothers taking some time off from each other after more than three decades of making films together, Joel Coen directed the eerie, intense ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ with Denzel Washington, while Ethan Coen has gone in a decidedly different – if also somewhat more familiar — direction.

Writing with his wife (and occasional Coens editor) Tricia Cooke, Ethan has come up with ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a combination of road movie, comedic caper, and lesbian romance that comes across in the style of earlier Coen brothers laughers like ‘Raising Arizona’ or ‘The Big Lebowski.’ But while the two leads have a sweet and even sexy chemistry, the laughs are only intermittent and the movie ends up as a trifle more than anything else.

Story and Direction

Actor Margaret Qualley, actor Geraldine Viswanathan and director/writer/producer Ethan Coen on the set of 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Actor Margaret Qualley, actor Geraldine Viswanathan and director/writer/producer Ethan Coen on the set of ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) are two young women who are part of Philadelphia’s lesbian community circa December 1999. Jamie is spur-of-the-moment, unfiltered, and endlessly horny, wrecking her latest relationship with cop Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) when she is caught cheating on her. Marian, on the other hand, is uptight and generally unhappy with her life, which Jamie sees as a cue that her friend needs to get out in the world and get some action.

The two decide to reboot their lives with a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida, where Marian wants to do some reading and bird-watching while Jamie wants to stop at every lesbian bar they can find along the way and get them both laid. The pair hit the road in a one-way rental courtesy of drive-away agency operator Curlie (Bill Camp) – except that Curlie has given them the wrong car.

Unbeknownst to the ladies, the trunk contains cargo both strange and decidedly illegal, and the two women find themselves soon pursued by two goons (C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick) sent in hot pursuit by their boss (Colman Domingo), who answers to an even higher, more sensitive authority. How Jamie and Marian deal with the situation could either shatter their friendship, end their lives, or both.

Actor Geraldine Viswanathan, actor Margaret Qualley, and director/writer/producer Ethan Coen on the set of 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Actor Geraldine Viswanathan, actor Margaret Qualley, and director/writer/producer Ethan Coen on the set of ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

As one might ascertain, ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ (the original title, ‘Drive-Away Dykes,’ was deemed not marketable by the studio) sounds a lot like it’s in the vein of the deadpan, surreal comedies that Joel and Ethan Coen were perhaps best-known for during their 34 years of making films together. While the siblings have made more somber films together as well, like the brilliant ‘No Country for Old Men,’ as well as drama/comedy hybrids like ‘Fargo’ and ‘A Serious Man,’ it’s their zanier work like ‘Raising Arizona,’ ‘The Big Lebowski,’ and ‘O Brother Where Are Thou?’ that audiences arguably associate most with them.

‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is squarely in the latter tradition, with a slightly different spin. In addition to directing (this is Ethan’s first narrative feature on his own, following a 2022 Jerry Lee Lewisdocumentary), Ethan also wrote the script with his wife Tricia Cooke, who identifies as queer. Perhaps the freshest aspect of ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is that its leads, Jamie and Marian, are not solely characterized by their sexuality; yes, the movie features a heaping of sex, and Jamie is determined to get some nookie for both herself and Marian, but it’s not the driving factor of the story or part of its overall themes. It’s just part of who they are.

The relationship between Jamie and Marian is at first caustic, of course – these two couldn’t be more opposite – but it soon unveils a sweeter undertone as they (somewhat predictably) begin to realize that their feelings for each other run deeper than suspected. Qualley and Viswanathan are great together in that regard, and the strongest element of the movie. But the plot – a mishmash of ‘60s and ‘70s road trip B-movies with a dash of psychedelia – is so slight, the ultimate mystery so silly, and the humor so intermittent that ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ ends up feeling like a lark more than anything else. It has its fun moments, but it dissolves from one’s mind the minute it’s over.

Characters With No Names

Colman Domingo as "The Chief", C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as "The Goons" in director Ethan Coen's 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Colman Domingo as “The Chief”, C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as “The Goons” in director Ethan Coen’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

Part of the problem with ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is that it feels almost like a rough draft version of a Coen brothers film (since Cooke, a film editor by trade, frequently edited the movies made by her husband and brother-in-law, she was an integral part of that process as well). The Coens’ comedies are often fizzy in nature, but the best of them have had either incredibly compelling characters or either a darker or more emotional underpinning that helped turn them into classics.

There’s little of that in ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ outside of the chemistry between Qualley (who looks a lot like her mom, Andie MacDowell, in this film) and Viswanathan, both of whom have great timing, highly expressive faces and effortless presence. Qualley is particularly strong here. But once you get beyond them, the rest of the characters are barely sketched in.

Pedro Pascal stars as "The Collector" in director Ethan Coen's 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

Pedro Pascal stars as “The Collector” in director Ethan Coen’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

Most of them don’t even have names, in fact. Domingo, always excellent, is just called the Chief; his goons are literally listed as The Goons in the credits. A cameoing Pedro Pascal is known simply as the Collector (there are a couple of other cameos as well, from Matt Damon and a star we won’t name). We’re always a little suspicious when we see cast lists like this: it’s often a clear sign that these characters are nothing more than stock figures, and little attempt is made to give them any more depth than that (the Goons’ scenes together – one of them constantly yammering and the other mostly silent – also feel like reheated leftovers from two similar characters in ‘Fargo,’ played in that film by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare).

But that’s the nature of ‘Drive-Away Dolls’: it’s so sketchily pulled together that despite the warmth of its leads and a few fleeting jokes than land well, it feels like half the movie is missing in a way. And in one sense, it is.

Final Thoughts

Geraldine Viswanathan as "Marian", Margaret Qualley as "Jamie" and Beanie Feldstein as "Sukie" in director Ethan Coen's 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian”, Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Beanie Feldstein as “Sukie” in director Ethan Coen’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

The Coen brothers have made some of the most memorable movies of the last 40 years, from their still-stunning debut ‘Blood Simple’ to some of the later masterpieces we mentioned earlier. But from the two narrative movies we’ve seen them make separately – Joel’s ‘Macbeth’ and Ethan’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ — it seems like they have very different sensibilities. Based on watching the latter, it almost seems that Ethan needs his brother’s sense of gravitas to balance out his goofier impulses.

We certainly admire the lead performances and the film’s successful attempt to make a queer-centric movie that doesn’t feel like exploitation (not the good kind) or heavy-handed social commentary. But we wish those were in service of something that was funnier in a more organic way and less of a one-dimensional pastiche.

‘Drive-Away Dolls’ receives 5.5 out of 10 stars.

“A story of two ladies going south.”

R1 hr 24 minFeb 23rd, 2024

Showtimes & Tickets

Jamie, an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh… Read the Plot

What is the Plot of ‘Drive-Away Dolls’?

This comedy caper follows Jamie (Margaret Qualley), an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) who desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals along the way.

Who is in the cast of ‘Drive-Away Dolls’?

  • Margaret Qualley as Jamie
  • Geraldine Viswanathan as Marian
  • Beanie Feldstein as Sukie
  • Colman Domingo as Chief
  • Pedro Pascal as Santos
  • Bill Camp as Curlie
  • Matt Damon as Senator Channel
  • Joey Slotnick as Arliss
Margaret Qualley as "Jamie" and Geraldine Viswanathan as "Marian" in director Ethan Coen's 'Drive-Away Dolls,' a Focus Features release.

(L to R) Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian” in director Ethan Coen’s ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features.

Other Ethan Coen Movies:

Buy Tickets: ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ Movie Showtimes

Buy Coen brothers Movies on Amazon

 

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