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‘Drive-Away Dolls’ refreshes concise comedies

From+left+to+right%2C+Marian+%28Geraldine+Viswanathan%29+and+Jamie+%28Margaret+Qualley%29+discuss+what+their+plan+of+action+should+be+in+Drive-Away+Dolls.
Courtesy of Focus Features
From left to right, Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Jamie (Margaret Qualley) discuss what their plan of action should be in “Drive-Away Dolls.”

3.5 out of 5.0 stars
Legendary writer and director Ethan Coen finds himself at the helm of a new project, “DriveAway Dolls,” but this time without his usual filmmaking partner and brother, Joel Coen. The two brothers —  known for films like “Fargo,” and “The Big Lebowski” —  have not made a film together since 2018’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” citing creative differences and desires to move their careers in different directions. 

While this is Ethan Coen’s first film as a solo director, he is not embarking solo on this project when it comes to the script. “Drive-Away Dolls” serves as the first feature length writing credit for Tricia Cooke. Cooke and Ethan Coen are married and have worked together in the past, with Cooke editing some of the brothers’ previous films.

The film, set in 1999, focuses on Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Jamie (Margaret Qualley), two young lesbian women living in Philadelphia looking for a fresh start on life. The duo decide the best way to achieve this is to rent a driveaway car and visit Marian’s aunt in Tallahassee. A mix-up causes them to be doggedly pursued by a mysterious, violent group who are in search of something important left in the drive away car Jamie and Marian drive.

While this could be a description of a serious drama, this film is anything but, and not in a bad way. It finds itself getting comfortable in many popular comedy tropes. From the odd couple that is Marian and Jamie, to being a classic road trip and sex-comedy, the base plot structure of the film is one we have seen before. Watchers of other Coen brother’s movies will also be very familiar with this film. From stylistic choices to plot beats, Ethan Coen has made movies like this before.

Like many of Coen’s previous romps, the film displays violence on a wide spectrum. From funny slapstick gags, to jarring, realistic outbursts, the movie explores violence on screen and how it makes the audience feel. Another stylistic choice common for Coen is the placement of nonsensical dream-like sequences throughout the film. While these don’t necessarily drive the plot, they try to contribute to the overall B-movie vibe we are supposed to be feeling. As the movie progressed, these sequences became overplayed.  

The familiarity of the film helps solidify it as a good time, yet it’s also a major flaw. Apart from primarily featuring lesbian women as its main characters, we have all seen this movie before. From the plot to the comedy, the film gets a little too comfortable in the tropes it inhabits, it is not unique in that way. 

That is not to say the movie isn’t engaging. It has fun moments and good twists to keep viewers interested. Another reason the film is so engaging is it clocks in at just under 90 minutes, which is so rare for a modern theatrical release. It was really refreshing going to the theater and seeing a concise, punchy comedy. 

The movie revels in the camp and the absurdity of the situation the characters find themselves in. Some shots look like they come straight out of a schlocky horror B-movie, and the script can be just silly. The edit of this movie, full of strange cuts and funny transitions, may be considered too goofy for some viewers. In the end, some of the editing choices are too jarring and break the film’s immersion, but most inject the film with energy and style.

Viswanathan really embodies the odd couple trope, allowing the script to speak for itself and find the comedy in the situation. This is juxtaposed to Qualley’s Jamie, a loud, free spirited Southern woman who drives most of the movie’s humor. Qualley has some stand out line deliveries throughout the whole movie. The two of them do a great job centering this film. Despite playing very different characters, they find good chemistry that was necessary for this movie to work. Their relationship helps to propel the film.

As with many of Coen’s scripts, there are fantastic supporting characters in this movie. We see big stars like Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon take on small roles and make the already funny script come to life. Overall “DriveAway Dolls” is a tight, fun time, but slightly disappointing as we’ve seen Coen make far more memorable films. While it may not be a highlight of his catalog, it’s still a great theater experience.

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    LoriMar 3, 2024 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks for the review….based on your wonderful description I will see this film…always can use a good laugh and love a good people story

    Reply