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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

'Drive-Away Dolls' is a raunchy road trip to remember

Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke’s lesbian road trip comedy is low-stakes but consistently entertaining.

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS (2023)

(Left to right) Geraldine Viswanathan as "Marian" and Margaret Qualley as "Jamie" in director Ethan Coen's DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release.

“Drive-Away Dolls”, directed by Ethan Coen, is reminiscent of many classic Coen brothers movies. But, in many ways, it’s something new for the filmmaker. A departure from Coen’s catalog of Westerns and crime comedies, “Drive Away Dolls” is a crime flick, a road trip comedy and a sexploitation film rolled into one. Coen co-produced the film with his wife Tricia Cooke, who wrote the film with him in the early 2000s — it sat in development for nearly 20 years before making it to the big screen. Raunchy, zippy and unabashedly queer, “Drive Away Dolls” doesn’t have a lot to say, but it’s an undeniably entertaining comedy that will have you eager to go along for the ride.

Set in late ‘90s Philadelphia, the film features Jamie (Margaret Qualley), a confident, free-spirited lesbian going through a recent breakup, and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), her uptight, reserved friend who’s struggling to find love. Looking to shake things up in their lives, Jamie and Marian rent a car and embark on a road trip to Tallahassee, but things go south quickly when they discover they’ve inadvertently been given the wrong car. By the time they discover a mysterious package in the trunk, they’re already tangled up in a messy criminal plot with a pair of goons on their tail.

The film is enhanced by Qualley and Viswanathan’s undeniable chemistry. Qualley, who recently played the main character in Netflix’s “Maid” (2021), brings a rebellious energy to Jamie, whose fast-talking Southern twang and confidence make her an instantly likable character. Viswanathan, in one of her first lead film roles, is the perfect foil to Qualley, playing Marian with just the right amount of naivete and apprehension. Qualley and Viswanathan are a charming odd couple, exchanging barbs and jokes without missing a beat.

The film’s supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches, featuring Beanie Feldstein as Jamie’s hilariously resentful ex-girlfriend, Bill Camp as deadpan driveaway owner Curlie and Matt Damon as a corrupt Florida senator. C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick play Arliss and Flint, the inept criminals who follow the girls to Florida. Wilson and Slotnick’s take on the good cop, bad cop dynamic is delightful as they follow a never-ending list of orders from their boss, played by the always-reliable Colman Domingo.

“Drive-Away Dolls” doesn’t shy away from lewdness, paying homage to low-budget sexploitation films of the ‘60s and ‘70s with gratuitous nudity and sexual situations. The film never takes itself too seriously, with B-movie style action sequences, goofy transitions and dream sequences reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998). And with two lesbian leads, Coen and Cooke’s film carves out a place for itself in queer cinema. Cooke, who identifies as queer, deserves credit for this new take on the Coen brothers’ classic style. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Cooke said, “I kind of represent the queer world. All of the bumbling men in the movie and all of the caper stuff definitely comes from Ethan’s mind.”

The film’s score, composed by frequent Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell, is brilliant, complementing its eclectic soundtrack. Ari Wegner’s dynamic cinematography pulls viewers into Jamie and Marian’s zany, fast-paced world. Coen and Cooke’s script packs a punch with fully-realized characters, raunchy jokes and a plethora of unexpected twists. Meanwhile, Coen’s direction and Cooke’s editing guide viewers through the story’s many twists and turns, striking the right balance between romance, action and humor. And, at just 84 minutes, the film is a breeze to watch, wasting no time on filler scenes or unnecessary side plots. Although the film doesn’t end with any kind of insightful or powerful message, its bawdy humor and talented cast will keep you invested throughout.

In theaters starting today, “Drive-Away Dolls” simultaneously gives audiences a dose of nostalgia for road trip films and B-movies of decades past while marking a step forward for queer characters in cinema. Coen and Cooke have hinted that the film might be the first in a lesbian B-movie trilogy, the second of which is already written. We can only hope that “Drive-Away Dolls” is a sign of more to come.

Summary “Drive-Away Dolls” is a joke-filled joy ride with R-rated humor, B-movie tropes and exceptional performances by Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan.
4 Stars