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Drive-Away Dolls

Directed by Ethan Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Robert Graf
Written by Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke
With: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, and Matt Damon
Cinematography: Ari Wegner
Editing: Tricia Cooke
Music: Carter Burwell
Runtime: 84 min
Release Date: 23 February 2024
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

Ethan Coen's first solo foray into narrative directing plays less like one-half of a Coen Brothers movie and more like a film by a twenty-something Coen Brothers imitator. That's not meant as a backhanded compliment. It's impressive when a 66-year-old veteran of nearly 20 features can still make something so spry, sexy, and adolescently funny without it feeling, as the actual young folk say, "cringey." Best of all, unlike so many films by young Coen Brothers imitators, this movie never overstays its welcome or runs out of gas before the end. That's also impressive, considering this goofball tale of two young lesbian pals who use a drive-away car service for an impromptu road trip and accidentally take off in a car with a suitcase full of trouble in the trunk, is essentially a collection of stale noir tropes amped up with a zany comic-book style of shooting and editing that hasn't felt innovative since 1997. It helps that the movie is set in the '90s, a more innocent time before GPS and cellphones, back when movies were still coming up with fresh ways to surprise audiences, and viewers of all ages weren't yet jaded by knowing that everything had been done better before.

Also, unlike the best films in the Coen canon, there's no hidden depth and not too much of an underlying meaning to these comical proceedings. But it's a hoot! Coen and his wife—producer, editor, and screenwriter Tricia Cooke—apparently wrote this script when they were much younger (like mid-40s). They may not have created their characters from personal experience, but they clearly have a deep affection for them. Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys, Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, Sanctuary) and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers, Hala, Bad Education) star as Jamie and Marian. Jamie is an uninhibited free spirit, while Marian is an uptight introvert, and that's just the first of many clichés Coen and Cooke concoct. The entire premise of driving off with a suitcase belonging to a group of inept criminals was a well-roasted chestnut even back in the '90s. The fact that there's a severed head inside this one makes the premise even more overcooked. Yet the filmmakers spread their well-worn narrative blanket out for us so skillfully and set such a tasty picnic of high-end cinematic junk food upon it that we'd be snobs not to partake and enjoy.

It helps that the excellent supporting cast seasons this broth so well. Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, and Matt Damon are all used to just the right effect—any more screen time devoted to any of their characters could easily curdle the milk. (I'm not sure why this movie inspires food metaphors, sorry). We spend much more of the brief running time with Joey Slotnick and C. J. Wilson as Arliss and Flint, two bungling armed goons whose road-trip bickering is reminiscent of Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare's in Fargo. Miley Cyrus gets her first even remotely good non-Hannah-Montana screen role, playing a character based on the late rock-n-roll ceramicist to whom this movie is dedicated.

Drive Away Dolls continues the welcome return of playfully raunchy R-rated cinema that came roaring back with a vengeance in 2023 to remind moviegoers that sex can be fun, hilarious, liberating, and a perfectly relevant way to move a narrative forward or even build an entire story around. Part of what makes this film so much fun is that, despite the comic-book violence and fish-in-a-barrel villains, nothing about this comedy is mean-spirited. This is a charmingly debauched farse in which vulgarity comes off as sweet, and revenge is a dish that is best served hot.

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Ethan Coen's first solo foray is almost as hilarious and fun as the best Coen Bros. pictures. Margaret Qualley plays Georgy Clooney to Geraldine Viswanathan's John Turturro in a tale about two young lesbian pals who take an impromptu road trip in a car with a suitcase full of trouble. Surprisingly, this peddle-to-the-metal comedy never runs out of gas.