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'Drive-Away Dolls' Review

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February 23, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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It may only be a sample size of one movie a piece; but between The Tragedy of Macbeth and Drive-Away Dolls, it’s becoming quite clear to see what skills and fascinations each of the Coen brothers brought to their decades’ worth of conjoined works. It wouldn’t be a far-fetched theory to envision Joel winning most of the arguments for the relatively darker No Country for Old Men and The Man Who Wasn’t There; while Ethan held a tighter grip for Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, and Burn After Reading. This isn’t to say that one was right and the other was wrong, as almost all those movies listed are a masterclass in balancing tone and homage (No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading are my personal favorites). It’s more of an explanation of why the brothers have parted ways these past few years, each breaking away from the time-old shackles and experimenting with their newly unfiltered vision.

However, that last part about “unfiltered” is only somewhat correct. Joel’s departure saw him saddle up with one of the most well-known dramas in the English language, with Ethan teaming up with his wife, Tricia Cooke, to co-write and co-produce a lesbian road trip comedy. The results here are a bit scatterbrained, sort of touching on a few too many Coen trademarks with only half the potency they used to have.

One thing Drive-Away Dolls doesn’t lack is brevity. At a crisp 84 minutes when factoring in the credits, this crime caper moves at the same pace as the racing dogs featured near the Tallahassee-set climax. A flurry of B-movie transitions; including whip pans, spinning frames, and wipes, never allows you to lose sight of the kitschy influences. There are a few sequences, specifically some psychedelic drops and neon-infused frames, that tip the scales too much in the wrong direction, but it’s never enough to ruin the whole trip.

Things start in Philadelphia on the eve of the 21st century. Jamie (Margaret Qualley) is a free spirit who finds herself broken up with by her cop girlfriend (Beanie Feldstein) after a few too many actions without thought. She and her uptight friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) need a temporary change of scenery, which is the perfect excuse to earn some extra cash by performing a driveaway service to Florida. Except, this particular car contains a mysterious briefcase inside, one that holds powerful secrets that a group of bumbling goons (led by Colman Domingo) are after.

A few other actors show up in bit parts/cameos. Pedro Pascal stars in the cold open and experiences the alternative use for a wine opener, Bill Camp is the droll car dealership manager, and Matt Damon plays the head honcho after the briefcase. Everyone is having fun in their roles, especially Qualley with her Texan accent and delightfully vulgar views on life. It’s their energy and charm that gets most of the material across the finish line, as the Coen/Cooke script often feels stuck in the realm of “just okay.”

“Just okay” would be an accurate statement to use for the whole film, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s hard to complain about something being “just okay” when it’s this zippy and kooky, even if the headliner name of Ethan Coen would make you believe you were in for something a little more special.

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