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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Drive-Away Dolls

Drive-Away Dolls is Ethan Coen’s first feature as a solo director. His illustrious filmography is entirely tied to his brother, Joel. As a duo, they’ve made some great movies like Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading and more. Ethan Coen’s first solo feature is short and mildly funny. In Drive-Away Dolls, two lesbian friends take a drive-away car from Philadelphia to Florida in 1999.

Ethan Coen wrote the script for Drive-Away Dolls with his wife, Tricia Cooke. Although the dialogue is snappy, the story is predictable and lacks luster. The sequence at a dog track has that Coen Brothers brilliance where comedy and horror tensely dance. The opening sequence with Pedro Pascal leans on familiar tropes that feel tired. There is also a bad moment when the story directly references the movie it’s about to rip a beat from.

Now that each Coen brother has directed a solo feature, I think it shows why these two make such a good pairing. Ethan went with a lesbian road trip while Joel went with a black-and-white remake of MacBeth. Pairing seriousness with silliness made the duo amazing. In Drive-Away Dolls, it feels like the silliness takes over and there is almost no seriousness. As such, the movie holds little weight and never becomes something poignant or thoughtful.

Margaret Qualley as the lead is notable for her overpowering accent. As she spoke, I wondered if anyone really talked like that other than Miley Cyrus, who then had an odd cameo in the movie. Qualley’s accent was nowhere near as memorable as Francis McDormand’s Minnesotan accent in Fargo. The actor I was most impressed with in Drive-Away Dolls was Beanie Feldstein. She had the best comedic moments and I liked how Coen and Cooke wrote the character. Her choices were subtle nods to the possibility that she was not over her breakup with Qualley.

Geraldine Viswanathan’s character deals with her dormant sex life. Qualley tries to push her out of her box but never do we really get the sense that that is what Viswanathan wants. The movie paints a picture like it’s a bad thing that Viswanathan wants to read her Henry James novels in peace. Although the director tries, we never get a sense that there is repressed sexuality. However, it is this sexual liberation that ends up driving her narrative even if it doesn’t feel entirely natural.

The combination of straight-edge Viswanathan and promiscuous Qualley as the buddy duo in this comedy feels anything but fresh. There is arguably no more overdone comedic trope than the double act. Qualley and Viswanathan work well together but their relationship covers little new ground, other than that they’re lesbians, which doesn’t add much comedy despite plenty sex jokes.

A woman with bare shoulders and a bob haircut with a blue background.

The best cinematography in the movie comes in the second of three sex scenes. There are some beautiful, subtle shots in this sequence, largely of water shimmering on a ceiling. This is the only scene with shots that truly stood out from a cinematography angle. Other adventures into the visually weird fall flat, like the psychedelic back story that feels like filler in an already short movie.

In the end, Drive-Away Dolls is a light comedy with few laugh-out-loud moments. Its emphasis on lesbian sexuality is exciting, but the below-average Coen crime scenarios that the two leads find themselves in make for an uninspired viewing. I wouldn’t recommend spending your hard-earned money to go see this in theatres. However, for a streaming movie, you could do a lot worse. Drive-Away Dolls is not expressively bad. It only feels unnecessary and uninspired. Still, Ethan Coen has an undeniable skill at movie making. For a quiet night in, once the movie hits streaming, it’s a fine selection. For a night when you’re paying double digits for a movie ticket, you can find a bigger dildo.

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