Drive-Away Dolls

Drive-Away Dolls
Ethan Coen pays homage to Russ Meyer with his solo directorial debut, but the messy film proves that the Coen Brothers work better as a tandem.

Drive-Away Dolls

Release Date: February 23, 2024
Runtime: 01:24
Jamie regrets her breakup with her girlfriend, while Marian needs to relax. In search of a fresh start, they embark on an unexpected road trip to Tallahassee. Things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals.

Table of Contents

Two lesbian friends on a road trip accidentally take an important package wanted by a group of criminals in . A group of criminals led by The Cheif (), intercepts a very important briefcase from nervous collector Santos () and prepares to have his goons Arliss () and Flint () transport the package to Tallahassee, Florida. However, the car containing the case is inadvertently rented to Jamie () and her friend Marian (), who are going on a road trip to help Jamie overcome her break-up with police officer Sukie (). The Cheif sends Arliss and Flint to intercept the two lesbians before they reach their destination.

Drive-Away Dolls Synopsis

After going on an extended hiatus from filmmaking, during which time his brother Joel went solo with The Tragedy of Macbeth, Ethan Coen returns with his own solo film Drive-Away Dolls, which he co-wrote with his wife Tricia Cooke. Set in 1999, the film stars Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Sanctuary) and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers) as lesbian friends Jamie and Marian, who live in Philadelphia.

Jamie's infidelities result in her break-up with her live-in girlfriend Sukie, played by Beanie Feldstein (Book Smart), leaving her without a home. As such, she decides to join Marian on a trip to Tallahassee and they rent a car from a drive-away car service. Unbeknownst to them, a misunderstanding by the proprietor Curlie (), results in Jamie and Marian being given a car containing a very important briefcase in the trunk, which a group of criminals wants back.

My Thoughts on Drive-Away Dolls

Following the last Coen Brothers film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in 2018, Ethan Coen decided to go on an extended hiatus from filmmaking. During this hiatus, his brother Joel went solo to direct 2021's The Tragedy of Macbeth. Three years later, Ethan Coen has returned with his own solo project, in collaboration with his wife, editor Tricia Cooke.

When comparing the two solo projects, Drive-Away Dolls is closer to the type of film that is typically made by the Coen Brothers. However, Drive-Away Dolls also seems to be a homage to the sexploitation films of director Russ Meyer, right down to the title being an allusion to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The film also seems inspired by the writing of author Henry James, with Geraldine Viswanathan's character of Marian being seen reading one of his books throughout the film.

While Drive-Away Dolls feature solid performances by leads Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan, with Qualley, in particular, being quite memorable, the plot itself is a bit of a mess. This includes multiple psychedelic transitions that don't fit within the 1990s time period of the film and a plot that doesn't quite fit together. Even a third-act cameo by a Coen Brothers alum seems to come out of left field.

Speaking of cameos, despite somewhat prominent billing, Pedro Pascal is practically wasted in the film, as only a character who sets the plot in motion during the opening scene. Recent Oscar-nominee Colman Domingo is also somewhat unremarkable as lead antagonist The Cheif. That said, character actor Joey Slotnick, probably best known for his supporting role in 1996's Twister, ends up being a pleasant surprise in the film as the “nice guy” goon Arliss.

With each of the Coen Brothers' solo projects, an undeniable fact has been proven. While The Tragedy of Macbeth demonstrated Joel Coen's skills as a director and Drive-Away Dolls demonstrated Ethan Coen's skills at developing fun stories, they are ultimately best when they work as a tandem. Here's hoping that it happens sooner rather than later.


Trailer for Drive-Away Dolls

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Drive-Away Dolls

Written by Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke, this comedy caper follows Jamie, an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian who desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals along the way. Directed by Ethan Coen.

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.