The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS | The Movie Waffler


Romance develops between two lesbian friends as they're pursued by mobsters.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ethan Coen

Starring: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, Matt Damon

Drive-Away Dolls poster

Throughout their career the Coen brothers have vacillated, not always successfully it must be said, between comedy and drama. The question of which brother was the "serious" one and which the comic has been somewhat answered by each of the Coens having now gone their own way. In 2021 Joel gave us the Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth. Now Ethan gives us something as far from Shakespeare as you could imagine, a knockabout sex caper.

Drive-Away Dolls was originally conceived in the early 2000s with Alison Anders marked to direct under the title "Drive-Away Dykes" before it fell apart. With time on their hands during the pandemic, Coen and his wife Tricia Cooke (editor of many of the Coens' films) dusted down the script and decided it would serve as Ethan's solo debut. It seems few changes were made to that early 2000s draft as it's very much a crime caper in the vein of all those awful Tarantino wannabes of the late '90s. The film keeps its 1999 setting, which helpfully removes any plot obstacles that might be posed by today's technology, but it's more indebted to the cinema of earlier decades. It owes a lot to 1970s female-led exploitation movies, particularly Michael Pressman's The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. Like Claudia Jennings and Jocelyn Jones in that drive-in classic, Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan play a free-wheeling Texan gal and an uptight young middle class woman who find themselves on a raucous road trip. They also happen to be lesbians, which makes some of the film's casual approach to sexuality jar with the 1999 setting. But in its juvenile execution Drive-Away Dolls has more in common with the immature sex comedies of the 1980s.

Drive-Away Dolls review

Qualley adopts an often impenetrable Texan drawl as Jamie, a sexually promiscuous free spirit who finds herself homeless when her police officer girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) tires of her infidelity and kicks her out of her apartment. With nowhere else to go, Jamie decides to tag along with her uptight friend Marian (Viswanathan) on a trip from Philadelphia to Florida to deliver a drive-away car.

Due to a mix-up, the girls end up with a car that was meant to be picked up by a pair of hoodlums (Joey Slotnick and CJ Wilson) working for a mobster known as "The Chief" (a wasted Colman Domingo). The trunk of the car contains a macguffin whose nature is kept secret until a late reveal played for the most sophomoronic of laughs, leading to a cross country pursuit.

Drive-Away Dolls review

As Jamie and Marian share the adventure a Sure Thing dynamic develops as the former attempts to get the latter to loosen up. The arc of their budding romance resolves far too quickly for the viewer to become significantly invested however. It's less "Will they, won't they?" and more "Oh, I guess they just did" as they start snogging on their first motel stop. Once they hook up their dynamic becomes redundant as any existing conflict is erased. Jamie and Marian are cardboard characters, so it's no surprise they turn to mush as soon as they get wet. Like a disastrous one-night stand, Drive-Away Dolls shoots its load early and spends the rest of the running time trying to figure out how to make its undignified exit.

The film's progressive sexual politics are undermined by an ultimately conservative view of Jamie and Sukie's relationship, with the liberal-minded Jamie being the one who has to make all the compromises to suit Sukie's shrewish worldview. How many times have we seen this play out in modern American comedies? Wouldn't it be nice to see an American sex comedy that doesn't judge its promiscuous female lead in such a manner, like the revolutionary for their era '70s capers Drive-Away Dolls harks back to? Ironically the film takes a cheap shot at Republicans at one point while reinforcing the sort of dated "family values" such conservatives obsess over.

Drive-Away Dolls review

If you find the mere sight of a dildo hilarious then this is the movie for you, as it's a gag that's repeated incessantly throughout Coen's film. There are more dildos thrown about here than on the average hen night. We also get the sight of a dog humping a prone mobster's leg. Oh stop Ethan, I can't take any more of this hilarity. Like those terrible British sex comedies of the '60s and their even worse American cousins of the '80s, Drive-Away Dolls seems to find the very idea of sex amusing and it counts on the audience having a similarly antiquated mindset. If you're a grown-up in the year 2024 there's very little to find amusing here.

Occasionally we're reminded that this is the work of a talented filmmaker, such as a cleverly constructed flashback to a formative experience in Marian's childhood. But too often Coen opts for tired visual trickery that betrays the film's turn of the century origins, including the classic post-Tarantino shtick of placing the camera in the trunk of a car. While their characters are paper-thin, Qualley and Viswanathan do make for a charming screen couple, which only makes it all the more frustrating that they're lumbered with such shoddy material.

Drive-Away Dolls is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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