Drive-Away Dolls Review

Drive-Away Dolls
Drive-Away Dolls
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Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies include some of the dumbest criminals in film history. In Raising Arizona, there is H.I. McDunnough who is always in trouble. Burn After Reading has Linda a bit dull and her himbo partner Chad who are completely clueless about what’s going on. The Big Lebowski sees Walter, who thinks he knows everything, leading the wrong way-counting Donny, to his death at last; it was a serious mistake from him because he was really an idiot whisperer for Ethan in Coen Drive-Away Dolls which happens to be the first narrative film written and directed by Joel’s brother.

This is not a one-man show though. Tricia Cooke also co-wrote and unofficially co-directed this film with Coen—a long-standing friend of hers; the setting of this story takes place in the late 90s when she used to go to Sapphic bars. (They have plans for making a “lesbian trilogy” if they do well.) Lesbian humor in the movie is raunchy—when Jamie (Margaret Qualley) sticks her head out from between another woman’s legs—and fondly reminiscent of post-riot grrrl scenes that will feel like catnip to lesbians over 40 wearing Doc Martens. (One scene has them listening to Le Tigre’s Eau d’Bedroom Dancing.)

Geraldine Viswanathan acts as Marian, Jamie’s uptight office worker opposite number with a Texas accent very well done by Marian. Much as we don’t know how these two character types ever met or became friends there isn’t much point dwelling on it since lesbian circles tend to be smallish anyway just like their friends circle too small here. However, Marian wants excitement back into her dull life while Jamie must flee town for some time until old girlfriend Sukie Beanie Feldstein stops being mad at her soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. So, they get a job driving one car from Philadelphia to Florida without actually realizing that they have set off a string of comical violent incidents that combine Cooke’s bold perspective with the kinds of ineptly orchestrated criminal plots typical of Coen.

Our heroes go on a picaresque journey through the American South against Marian’s will. The story has also got hint of political persecution somewhere in its background; it was 90s Florida after all. Yet this movie mocks the homophobic culture that arose from Y2K, which in some respects was less terrible than what we have now and had fewer legal remedies. No lesbian suffering is allowed here, though we do see hurt feelings left in Jamie’s wake.

Drive-Away Dolls may be slightly well-oiled in terms of passing throwaway jokes at the same light pace as big plot changes. This is particularly evident with the aforementioned plot about criminals including Colman Domingo and Pedro Pascal as well as Matt Damon who comes into the film late playing a conservative senator. Even though Domingo can come off as very menacing even in light movies (just refer to his role in Zola which takes place in Florida too), this doesn’t happen here reducing it to some “doing donuts in parking lot” madness with no variation whatsoever.

Coen’s Looney Tunes editing – Clock wipes? In this economy? – and the aggressive needle-drop soundtrack enhances the punch-drunk atmosphere of it all, which, again, is great when the jokes land. When they don’t, Drive-Away Dolls takes on a sweaty aura: Suddenly, Qualley’s Texas accent is a desperate gambit to fill the airless space around her, and Viswanathan’s squirming discomfort is a little too real. And there are a lot of jokes in the script, which means the opportunities to faceplant are plentiful as well. This movie is a rollercoaster ride, all right – one that’s bumpy as well as exhilarating.


Ethan Coen no longer makes movies with his brother Joel but Drive-Away Dolls demonstrates how much of an effective partner (and unofficial co-director) Tricia Cooke could be to him just like she was for Fargo or The Big Lebowski. Her film intertwines Cooke’s satirical lesbian humor into a signature Coen plot involving clumsy criminals making use of Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan who play different pairs of mismatched buddies at various times touring Florida via dangerous yet hilarious road trip. All in all, this is a quick, witty, and cool movie – so sleek I fell at some point.

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