Coen Brother’s Solo Project ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ – Trashy Fun You Can’t Miss!

It’s quite intriguing that the creative couple, Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke, who have worked together for many years in the film industry and are also married, have often referred to their latest work, “Drive-Away Dolls”, as “trashy” in various interviews. This might be their way of acknowledging inspiration from the likes of John Waters, famously known as the “Pope of Trash”, and Russ Meyer, a prominent figure in the B-movie genre. Alternatively, it could be an attempt to distance themselves from any preconceptions linked to Coen and his previous film collaborator, his brother Joel. This is definitely not a version of “No Country for Old Men” that you’d expect.

“Drive-Away Dolls” boldly carves out a niche that could be labeled as “a country for young lesbians,” if one felt so inclined. The movie itself is a subversion of the ’90s crime comedy genre, which was dominated by a sarcastic, ironic, and tough-guy image and popularized by the Coen brothers and their contemporaries like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. This genre gave birth to several generations of movie buffs.

Both Coen and Cooke collaborated in writing the film and essentially co-directed it, although only Coen is officially credited as the director and Cooke as editor (Cooke also edited other films like “The Big Lebowski” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with the brothers). The screenplay, drafted about two decades ago, was inspired by Cooke’s experiences in the lesbian bars of New York City during her youth and had been shelved for quite some time. The film’s 1999 setting serves as a reflection of the script’s age and unintentionally harks back to the type of movies it pays homage to. With its quick-witted dry humor, unusual camera angles, detached irony-infused violence, and eccentric scene transitions, it feels deliberately retro, although it was originally intended to be contemporary.

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The storyline revolves around two unlikely friends: Jamie (Margaret Qualley), a promiscuous lesbian and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), a conservative office worker, who decide to hit the road to Tallahassee, Florida, after Jamie gets into a troublesome situation for cheating on her ex, Sukie (Beanie Feldstein), who happens to be a cop. The friends choose an affordable “drive-away” rental car and inadvertently end up with a vehicle hiding a secret stash in the trunk, sparking a cross-state chase involving a senator’s sex scandal. Despite being pursued by two clumsy henchmen, the two friends manage to navigate their way through every lesbian bar south of the Mason-Dixon line, with lots of laughter, love, and female camaraderie.

This is essentially “Pulp Fiction” with sex toys, and it’s unapologetically sexual and focuses on female pleasure. However, one can’t shake off the feeling that “Drive-Away Dolls” sometimes comes across as a lesbian porn parody of a male-dominated crime comedy. A basement party hosted by a women’s soccer team where everyone is making out seems a bit too unrealistic. But then again, so is the overly ridiculous sex scandal that drives the entire plot. The film can often be crude to the point of being awkward, but it’s also packed with humor and moves at such a fast pace (it’s just around 85 minutes) that you barely have time to process what just happened.

Both Qualley and Viswanathan are incredibly dedicated and charismatic in their roles, with Qualley showcasing her talent for comedy. Viswanathan’s line deliveries are exceptionally sharp. However, if you delve deeper into the story, it becomes apparent that the plot lacks substance. The relationship between the two friends is not explained, and the character of a crime boss played by Colman Domingo is vague. The implications of the scandal and why the audience should be invested in it are unclear. Whether the plot devices and story elements fit together coherently seems questionable, but perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as the audience is entertained by this chaotic mix of amusing scenes.

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The rather thin and lightweight “Drive-Away Dolls” could easily be swept away by a gust of wind, but it manages to make a quick exit before that becomes an issue. Although the storyline fails to provide a solid reason for its existence, it delivers what it promises: mindless, risqué fun, even if it feels outdated in more ways than one.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

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