Combustible Celluloid Review - Drive-Away Dolls (2024), Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke, Ethan Coen, Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon, Connie Jackson
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With: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon, Connie Jackson
Written by: Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke
Directed by: Ethan Coen
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content, full nudity, language and some violent content
Running Time: 84
Date: 02/23/2024
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Drive-Away Dolls (2024)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dyke Psych-Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have been making movies together since 1984 (Blood Simple), and are, by some counts, among the greatest living filmmakers. In 2021, Joel made his solo directing debut with The Tragedy of Macbeth, which I selected as the year's best film. In typical Coen style, Ethan now makes his solo feature directing debut with something that couldn't be more opposite. In fact, Drive-Away Dolls could be the "B" picture that plays in front of Joel's "A" picture.

If you loved the zippy, wry dialogue that made films like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and Burn After Reading so uproarious, you'll get that again here. Ethan is aided on the screenplay by his wife, Tricia Cooke, who has long worked with the brothers as an editor. Cooke identifies as a lesbian, which is how this LGBTQ+ movie about uninhibited lesbian characters directed by a white, straight male, gets its clout. (Cooke and Coen are in a loving, open marriage, and work together as partners and co-parents.)

It's Philadelphia in 1999, just around the time that the "Y2K" virus has become a worldwide concern. Libidinous Jamie (Margaret Qualley) has got herself in trouble by cheating on her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein), and is kicked out. She decides it's a great time for a road trip to Tallahassee, and decides to drag pal Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) along for the ride. It's also an opportunity for Sukie to get Marian laid, since she is on a long dry spell.

They do a drive-away plan, in which they agree to drive a car that needs to be re-located, sparing a rental fee. Unluckily they happen to choose a car that carries a couple of secret packages in the trunk, a car that was supposed to have been picked up by bickering criminal "goons" Arliss (Joey Slotnick) and Flint (C.J. Wilson). When the car doesn't show up on time — Jamie has taken several detours (including one to Uncle Geno's Pizza, where something always happens) — the goons' boss (Colman Domingo) orders them to get on their trail and find that car.

Of course the girls discover the package, and, in a tip of the hat to Kiss Me Deadly and Pulp Fiction, we don't immediately get to see what's inside. And I'm not going to tell you. In essence, we get ransoms, secret meetings, a capture, an escape, and even a romance. Truthfully, the plot of Drive-Away Dolls isn't the most original, or subversive, or complex. It doesn't need to be. It has other things, including its 84-minute "B" movie energy, a few high-profile guest stars (Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Matt Damon, and a hilarious Bill Camp as "Curlie," the drive-away guy), and its high-powered laugh factor.

But I think that what makes it even better than all that is its positivity. It's hard to think of another lesbian-led story that's so free-spirited, so joyous, so unabashed and unafraid of sex, that has nothing to do with tormented issues of identity or coming out or discrimination or hatred. The Wachowski sisters' Bound (1996) popped into my head, but even that one is tense with furtive secret-keeping. Nothing is held back in Drive-Away Dolls, except maybe the title; Coen and Cooke originally wanted to call it Drive-Away Dykes, and as the closing credits roll, they manage to switch the title out for a second in a nod to sheer anarchy.

The only moment that stinks of any real-world bigotry happens when the girls drive through Red State territory and catch a campaign billboard for Senator Gary Channel (Damon), a man who, it's hinted, favors anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. But the mood of the scene, is: "oh well! Love conquers all!" Or, rather, the slogan Jamie has painted on their car: "Love is a sleigh ride to hell!" This movie is a pure, unchecked celebration of all things female and lesbian, with nothing ruining the fun.

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