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Film Review: DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS (2024): Ethan Coen’s Bare Bones Road Movie Feels Like a Late Night Crowd-Pleaser

Geraldine Viswanathan Margaret Qualley Drive Away Dolls

Drive-Away Dolls Review

Drive-Away Dolls (2024) Film Review, a movie directed by Ethan Coen, written by Tricia Cooke and Ethan Coen and starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon, Connie Jackson, Annie Gonzalez, Sam Vartholomeos, John Menchion, Abby Hilden, Haley Holmes and Fatima Fine.

A road trip to Tallahassee, Florida has plenty of road bumps in director Ethan Coen’s oddball comedy, Drive-Away Dolls. A pair of females set out to drive a car to transport themselves to Florida but, unbeknownst to them, some shady characters had intended the car to be driven to its destination by anyone but them. Coen’s movie is bare bones in terms of its plot structure and relies a lot on dry humor and witty dialogue to move the plot forward. It feels like a movie that could play well at midnight on a Saturday night with a large crowd. I didn’t see the movie on a Saturday night and didn’t see it with too much of an audience either so it’s hard to know how others would react to it, but on a Thursday afternoon, the movie feels like it needed some serious rewrites and fleshing out in the plot development department. Still, it features two fine actresses in the lead roles: Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan. They keep the movie afloat as Coen underachieves with this middle-of-the-road effort.

Qualley plays Jamie, the eccentric one. Viswanathan portrays Marian, the “straight” character. Let me get this right, though. Neither character is “straight.” It’s just that Jamie is more forward than the reserved Marian. The movie begins with some raunchy humor and the plot kicks into gear as they set out to escape the mundane circumstances they find themselves immersed in. So, they get a car from a guy named Curlie (Bill Camp) who thought the car was for someone else. How did Curlie screw up? As soon as he got off the phone with some lowlifes, the girls came in and asked for a car to deliver to Tallahassee. Yeah, right. This movie is full of coincidences that don’t add up even in the bizarre land of the Coen Brothers. Ethan’s brother, Joel, however, understandably sat this one out.

In the middle of all this is Colman Domingo as “The Chief” who promises that Curlie and whoever is driving that car will pay dearly for this major screw-up. Domingo is an Oscar nominated actor for Rustin and it feels like he could have done better than this role. There’s no real edge to the part. Even his supporting role in the far superior Zola had much more substance.

One scene has our leads going to a female soccer team’s party and making out with random girls. This scene is illustrative of what is wrong with Drive-Away Dolls. As the girls swap partners, they eventually get each other and Marian gets uncomfortable when it comes time to make out with Jamie. This scene would make sense if the events towards the ending of the film didn’t occur.  Some of the last sequences of the film contradict Marian’s feelings in the aforementioned scene. This makes me think the writers didn’t fully think about the plot. Instead, certain things happen in a haphazard way which doesn’t feel in sync with other scenes in the movie.

Of course, the girls get tied up and must escape the dumb criminals at hand in the movie. Of course, there’s a mysterious suitcase on hand as well. Yet, the way Qualley and Viswanathan play off each other will keep the audience entertained. These actresses have incredible timing and precision in their line delivery and keep the pace of the movie flowing smoothly. Pedro Pascal pops up in a part billed as the “Penis Collector.” He’s merely adequate in his role and Matt Damon as a politician, Gary Channel, seems to have come from another movie altogether. Still, Qualley and Viswanathan have fun on-screen and often make up for the movie’s shortcomings.

Meanwhile, the highlight of the film comes when Beanie Feldstein’s mean-spirited character, Sukie, sprays one of the bad guys in the movie with mace and nearly kills him. The guy won’t fight back because he doesn’t hit women. Feldstein chews scenery and she comes back into the action at the ending of the movie for a save that audiences will certainly appreciate. Feldstein could have had more scenes to make the movie better but since Coen gave her a minor role, she’s stuck by the restraints of her character and of the plot.

Drive-Away Dolls isn’t a bad movie. There’s no meat on its bones, though, except for the sharp humor that Coen flings at the audience in a fast and furious fashion in order to make sure viewers forget there’s no real compelling story line at the film’s center. Qualley and Viswanathan have some smart and charming chemistry together, though, that makes the movie a curiosity piece for people who like female-driven movies. There are also trippy establishing scenes that happen in-between the movie’s set pieces that set the mood of the film for the viewer.

If I saw the movie at midnight with a large crowd on a Saturday night, I may have been more compelled to recommend it. I’ll try to revisit this film in a couple of years or so at a screening in Brooklyn or Manhattan with a larger audience and see if my opinion of the film changes. As of now, it’s a movie which people could be interested in. Some may enjoy it. “May” being the key word. This is almost as far from mainstream movies as they come.

Rating: 6/10

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