Drive Away Dolls Has Surprising Laughs and Odd Moments

Drive Away Dolls still of Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) sitting with Jamie's (Margaret Qualley) arm around her.

Drive Away Dolls is Eric Coen by his directorial lonesome, but there’s a familiarity among the scenes. Yet a distinct aspect also makes up Coen’s artistic mind. It’s a cross between Raising ArizonaNo Country For Old Men, and Coen sans his brother. What follows in this brief film is a hilarious, raunchy movie that keeps viewers guessing what’s next at every turn. It veers into the nonsensical yet passionate, giving Drive Away Dolls its charm. It’s a ludicrous, exaggerated movie focusing on entertainment with little substance but plenty of pizzazz. 

Directed by Eric Coen and written by him and Tricia Cooke, the film, set in the late 1990s, follows a pair of friends, Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan). Jamie is forthright, and plays the field despite having a cop girlfriend, Suki (Beanie Feldstein). Marian is more reserved, even arguably repressed, and has been single since her last relationship years prior. After Suki kicks Jamie out, Jamie wants to skip town, and Marian intends to visit her aunt in Tallahassee. So they sign up to deliver a car. But doing things on schedule is not Jamie’s forte, so chaos ensues. 

Drive Away Dolls Is a Bawdy Comedic Flick

Drive Away Dolls still of (L to R) Colman Domingo as "The Chief", and C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as "The Goons".
(L to R) Colman Domingo as “The Chief”, and C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as “The Goons” in director Ethan Coen’s DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

It’s a lesbian film meant to be fun in the same vein as Porky’s. Jamie’s southern twang is thick, and for fans of previous Coen films, it’s easy to picture Nicholas Cage’s twang as he robbed a store for Huggies and money. One can even imagine Holly Hunter’s voice in the same film decrying Cage’s action as she shouted, “Everything’s changed!” This, combined with the pair of men tracking Jamie and Marian down at the behest of their Chief (Colman Domingo), maintains laughs throughout the film. The weird psychedelic groove with Miley Cyrus is the only section of Drive Away Dolls that cinematically falters. While the reason for her appearance ties in later, its sudden appearance and cinematic styling feel misplaced. 

Leads Work Together As Friends But Not As a Couple

Drive Away Dolls still of (L to R) Geraldine Viswanathan as "Marian", Margaret Qualley as "Jamie" and Beanie Feldstein as "Sukie".
(L to R) Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian”, Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Beanie Feldstein as “Sukie” in director Ethan Coen’s DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

With the sharp dialogue Margaret Qualley delivers, Jamie’s drawl keeps viewers in shock at her speed and awe at how she combines words for maximum surprise and laughs. Geraldine Viswanathan gives a stressed performance that complements Jamie’s free-spirited attitude. Her worries seem extreme next to Jamie’s laidback attitude. But the Drive Away Dolls focuses too much on laughable and odd situations, depriving viewers of rooting for them as a couple. Instead, audiences focus on their outlandish circumstances. In a fantastical film like this, the movie can do without the best friend’s unrequited love scenario. 

Pedro Pascal shines for the brief moment he appears, as does the cameo by Matt Damon as the typical hypocritical conservative congressman. Colman Domingo is superb in any role but feels underutilized here, given his broad acting capabilities. Bill Camp, as Curlie, owner of the car business, uses awkwardness to generate laughs. He is one of those characters incapable of reading the room.

Drive Away Dolls is a bawdy comedy that is unsure if it should commit to certain tones to build characters and relationships. But it’s the same kind of fun, commitment-averse film that Jamie would enjoy. It doesn’t need a clear path; for movies like Drive Away Dolls, it’s okay to shout, “What is happening?” while laughing raucously. Although not a perfect film, it’s fun, raunchy, and ridiculous, serving entertainment with unexpected comical shocks in a lesbian, buddy, road-trip flick. 

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