Film reviews and more since 2009

Drive-Away Dolls (2024) review

Dir. Ethan Coen

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Jamie and Marian (Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan) are two lesbians at a crossroads in their separate love-lives. Jamie has broken up with her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart) after cheating on her once again. Meanwhile, Marian is painfully single and is content to evenings spent reading Henry James in bed. The two are in need of a trip, so they rent a car and head to Tallahassee to visit Marian’s aunt.

There’s one slight snag, however. The car they’ve rented contains a mysterious briefcase that makes them the target of powerful men (C. J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick). The men attack the operator of the car rental office (Bill Camp), and track the girls during their long, windy road-trip to Florida.

Such is the basic plot of Drive-Away Dolls, a slight, 84-minute crime-comedy with dueling personalities that surprisingly mesh. I’m not talking about the protagonists. I’m talking about the era in which the film it’s set and, visually, the era in cinema it’s recalling. Despite being set in the acid-washed 90s, Drive-Away Dolls looks and moves like a 70s exploitation picture. Wacky transitions and fades permeate the picture while strange, psychedelically colored interludes shuffle us around different settings.

The film is directed by Ethan Coen, so one could say this is a “Coen Brother Film.” Its story and wry humor has a lot in common with The Big Lebowski similar to how it perpetually feels like it’s on the cusp of being funny while just coming up short. For me, some scenes produced hearty laughs while others left me in silence. The script (written by Coen and Tricia Cooke, his wife) relies on sex and lesbian trademarks for its humor, sometimes in a reductive manner, so much so that it becomes redundant despite its short runtime.

While Qualley and Viswanathan are wholly comfortable in the types they’ve been assigned, the two don’t conjure up the chemistry that gives the impression they’ve been friends for years. Qualley adopts a southern-fried accent that has her liberally throwing out terms like “sugar spice” ad nauseum. Because Qualley’s Jamie is the loquacious nympho, Viswanathan’s Marian has to be the uptight, reserved friend. This coupling doesn’t produce the dynamic duo you’d assume. Eventually, Jamie becomes defined only by her horniness and Marian never loosens up and loses some of her cold exterior. With Beanie Feldstein confined to being a limited supporting character, one wonders how much more fun things would’ve been if she was along for the ride.

The film is also peppered with cameos, including a blink-and-you-miss-it one from an (uncredited) Miley Cyrus, and Matt Damon as a Republican senator, whose involvement in the story is admittedly hilarious. Colman Domingo and Pedro Pascal pop up as additional goons in pursuit of the girls and whatever is in that briefcase. Drive-Away Dolls starts to shift into high-gear during its third act, when the twist is so ludicrously silly that it ends up being an effective compliment to the film’s campy, retro aesthetic.

Ahead of Drive-Away Dolls‘ release, Coen spoke about his extended break from filmmaking. “After 30 years, not that it’s no fun, but it’s more of a job than it had been,” he told the Associated Press. This might explain the film’s brevity and relatively simple design. It might also explain its underwritten nature. Another rewrite and this could’ve been a low-key gem as opposed to a fluttering diversion.

NOTE: Drive-Away Dolls is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, C.J. Wilson, Joey Slotnick, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon, and Miley Cyrus. Directed by: Ethan Coen.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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