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Film Review

‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is a rollicking ride filled with unexpected twists and turns

3/6/2024

“Drive-Away Dolls”
R | 84 minutes
Director: Ethan Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke
Stars: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein

Ethan Coen, known famously as one half of the Coen Brothers, ventures into solo territory with “Drive-Away Dolls,” a raucous and unpredictable road-trip comedy that brims with eccentricity and audacious humor. Despite Ethan’s previous collaborations with his brother Joel yielding some of cinema’s most memorable characters and scenes, “Drive-Away Dolls” proves that his solo efforts are not to be underestimated. While some may argue that the Coen Brothers’ combined creative energies produce a unique spark, Ethan demonstrates here that he’s more than capable of crafting a compelling narrative on his own. 

“Drive-Away Dolls” showcases his distinct storytelling prowess, offering a rollicking ride filled with unexpected twists and turns. The film’s plot unfolds with a frenetic energy, propelled by its eccentric characters and offbeat humor.

The flick follows the escapades of Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Jamie (Margaret Qualley), two friends embarking on a spontaneous post-breakup getaway to Tallahassee, Florida. What begins as a simple road trip quickly spirals into chaos when the two discover a peculiar briefcase in their rented car. This premise sets the stage for a series of increasingly bizarre and absurd encounters, as Marian and Jamie find themselves entangled in a web of criminal activity and unexpected romance. 

One of the standout aspects of “Drive-Away Dolls” is its unapologetic embrace of off-kilter humor and unconventional storytelling. Ethan Coen’s trademark wit shines through in the film’s dialogue, which crackles with sharpness and irreverence. From witty one-liners (“Won’t anybody save Curlie?”) to absurd situations (too many to list), the humor is consistently engaging, keeping audiences entertained throughout. 

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The cast delivers spirited performances, with Viswanathan and Qualley showcasing excellent chemistry as the mismatched duo at the film’s center. Viswanathan’s portrayal of the uptight Marian contrasts beautifully with Qualley’s free-spirited Jamie. Their dynamic serves as the anchor amid the film’s chaotic narrative, grounding the proceedings with a sense of emotional depth and authenticity, creating a dynamic relationship that evolves organically over the course of the film. Additionally, supporting players like Beanie Feldstein, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal inject further energy into the ensemble, each bringing their own brand of eccentricity to the table.

Visually, “Drive-Away Dolls” exudes a playful yet deliberately kitschy aesthetic, characterized by cheesy transitions and psychedelic interludes. These stylistic choices contribute to the film’s offbeat charm, enhancing its irreverent tone and adding to the overall sense of whimsy. 

While some may find these visual quirks jarring at first, they ultimately serve to enhance the film’s comedic sensibilities, especially when you finally understand what is happening. 

However, “Drive-Away Dolls” is not without its flaws. The film’s narrative occasionally feels disjointed, struggling to maintain cohesion as it veers between disparate genres and plotlines. While this approach may be intentional to mirror the chaotic nature of the characters’ journey or showcasing the limits of a B-movie budget, it can also result in moments of confusion or frustration for the audience. Additionally, while the inclusion of sexual humor and inclusive themes adds a layer of edginess to the proceedings, it also runs the risk of overshadowing other aspects of the film’s storytelling. As a result, “Drive-Away Dolls” occasionally feels tonally uneven with certain elements overpowering others.

Despite these shortcomings, “Drive-Away Dolls” remains an entertaining and refreshingly unconventional addition to Ethan Coen’s filmography. By embracing the trashy and absurd, Coen and co-writer Tricia Cooke craft a comedic romp that revels in its own eccentricity. While it may not reach the lofty heights of the Coen Brothers’ best works, “Drive-Away Dolls” offers a rollicking good time for those willing to embrace its irreverent spirit. With its zany humor, eclectic cast and unapologetically bizarre plot, the film stands as a delightful diversion from the ordinary. While it may not be to everyone’s tastes, those with a penchant for the offbeat are sure to find plenty to enjoy in this wild and unpredictable ride. 

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