Drive-Away Dolls

When Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) calls her friend Jamie (Margaret Qualley) from work, Jamie answers during hot and heavy sex with Sukie (Beanie Feldstein), the woman she’s about to break up with.  Later, prim and proper Marian informs her sexually adventurous friend she’s moving to Tallahassee to stay with her Aunt Ellis (Connie Jackson).  Jamie decides it’s a great excuse for a change of scenery and suggests they get a one way rental car.  Unbeknownst to them, Curlie’s (Bill Camp) just agreed to provide transport for illegal cargo for The Chief (Colman Domingo) to the same destination and when Marian and Jamie walk in, he thinks they are the “Drive-Away Dolls.”

Laura's Review: B

Ethan Coen’s first solo directorial feature (he directed a documentary on Jerry Lee Lewis in 2022), cowritten with his self-described queer wife Tricia Cooke (it’s complicated) who edited many of the brothers’ films, stands in stark contrast to older brother Joel’s 2021 solo effort, “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”  This one feels a whole lot more like a Coen Brothers’ movie, albeit a Coen-lite romcom road movie romp riffing on everything from “Blood Simple’s” romantic triangle to “Fargo’s” inept, brutish criminals.  With this, “Love Lies Bleeding” and Disney+’s(!) upcoming “Mother Mary,” 2024 is kicking off with some high profile lesbian love stories.

This one is a whole lot of fun, in essence one of those mismatched buddy comedies, Marian and Jamie polar opposites in everything but sexual preference.  Where Marian tends towards school-marmish attire and hasn’t had sex since a years-ago break-up, Jamie’s all sexy cowgirl always looking for her next tumble, something which immediately complicates a road trip after a stop at The Butter Churn yields a hookup for Jamie.  Their next stop, though, complicates things even further when the duo joins an all girls’ soccer team for a rotating make-out session in a house basement…

The 1980’s setting ensures that once they hit the road, the Chief’s goons, Arliss (Joey Slotnick) and Flint (C.J. Wilson), have to track them the old fashioned way, a stop at Sukie’s rewarding them with Jamie’s photo.  Arliss is the smooth talker continually tripped up by Flint, yet the duo manages to stay one step behind Marian and Jamie.  Closing in on their destination, a flat tire reveals just what the girls are transporting in their trunk, their response to opening the metallic suitcase we saw Santos (Pedro Pascal) killed for in the film’s opening salvo giving “Kiss Me Deadly” vibes.

Suffice to say, that suitcase’s contents are of a far more hilarious nature, the handiwork of one Tiffany Plastercaster (Miley Cyrus) valued for their leverage over the likes of Senator Gary Channel (Matt Damon).  And once Marion and Jamie’s friction turns to sparks, the Goons are no match for their firepower.

The film is chock full of running gags, like the wall dildo or the yapping Chihuahua Alice B. Toklas Jamie’s left with Sukie, the latter of which Sukie is determined to return, or the trampoline dreams of the younger Marian (Samsara Yett) feasting her eyes on the nude sunbather (Savanna Ziegler) next door.  The film’s cheeky attitude is complemented by such devices as unconventional wipe edits, swirling dissolves, trippy 60’s style transitions and long time Coen collaborator Carter Burwell’s ("Fargo," "Carol") snappy, propulsive percussion.

Qualley, playing the part like a sexy, insouciant Timothy Chalamet with a Texas drawl, is as loose as Viswanathan is tightly wound, the two well supported by a fierce Feldstein.  “Drive-Away Dolls” lands softly on a sweet note that shocks poor Aunt Ellis but lacks the rest of the movie’s irreverent bite, but at least Focus allowed its facade to drop in the film’s final seconds, revealing Coen and Cooke’s original title, “Drive-Away Dykes.”

Focus Features releases "Drive-Away Dolls" in theaters on 2/23/24.