‘Drive-Away Dolls’ Review: A Fun Car Ride with Snacks, Mystery, and Jokes

Peter Paras reviews Drive-Away Dolls, a Coen Brother film featuring laughs and lesbians on a wild road trip.
User Rating: 7

Drive-Away Dolls is like some lost/forgotten early Coen Brothers’ indie. It’s not that ambitious, simple in concept, but cast very well. The script is lean yet filled with plenty of memorable moments. The 2024 film is at least half Coen’s, directed by Ethan and co-written by his wife, Tricia Cooke (who also serves as editor, producer, and unofficially co-directed). Set in 1999, the story concerns a pair of freewheeling young lesbians who set off on a road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee in search of horny encounters, adventure, and, possibly, a mystery or two.

Starring Margaret Qualley (Poor Things) and Geraldine Viswanathan (The Beanie Bubble), the quick 84-minute tale includes fun supporting roles by Coleman Domingo and Beanie Feldstein with memorable cameos by Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon. In spirit and production, this is very much the kind of flick viewers were treated to during the Raising Arizona era by the Oscar-winning filmmakers. Does Drive-Away Dolls deliver enough to be a must-see in theaters? Mostly.

See Also: ‘All of Us Strangers’ Review: A Masterpiece in its Study of the Need for Human Understanding

When Southern free spirit Jamie (Qualley) desires a road trip after a bad breakup, her pal Marian (Viswanathan) regrettably tags along. One needs to find purpose, while the other just needs to loosen up. Unfortunately, the car they rent from an unassuming clerk (the always reliable Bill Camp) turns out to have something hidden in the trunk. Soon, a host of not-so-bright but determined crooks led by The Chief (Domingo) are hot on their trail. Will the ladies find out what’s in a strange metallic briefcase? Will there be quirky, sexy, fun times along the highway? Yes, and heck yeah.

As a fan of the Coen’s filmography, there’s a joy in seeing Qualley channeling an inner Southern attitude by way of Holly Hunter’s twang in the aforementioned baby kidnapping caper. Remember back in 1994 when Jennifer Jason Leigh did an impressive job paying homage to Rosalind Russell from His Girl Friday in the Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy? It’s like that. The mashing of eras is a specialty of Ethan, Joel, and now Cooke. One could probably make even more connections with various actors from their work. Qualley has always had an ‘up for anything’ style to her performances, ranging from her physicality as a former dancer (this ad rules) to her highly theatrical roles (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood).

The other half of this two-hander is Viswanathan’s Marian, who, by default, is the less showy role. The future MCU star who’s set to replace Ayo Edebiri in the upcoming Thunderbolts is more than game to play it well, not straight, obviously, but the right amount of someone who wants more out of life, particularly when it comes to foxy female partners. Alongside Qualley, both do a lot to imbue Jamie and Marian as a compelling duo, even if the script can, at times, feel bare bones.

Cooke and Coen’s script is most likely doing that by design. The road trip plot allows for easy stops where the talented cast gets to have fun playing with scenarios that have been done numerous times, not just in Coen’s films but in movies in general. An interrogation in an abandoned building, a cozy chat at a diner, a make-out session among coeds, and a confrontation in a dark alley all played for maximum humor. Every scene is 100% familiar yet made memorable by the specificity the cast brings to every line of dialogue.

Seeing Coleman Domingo’s not-quite-criminal mastermind try to intimidate Bill Camp’s car rental dude is rewarding to witness such talented actors share the screen (even if it’s only one scene). Likewise, Beanie Feldstein, as a pissed-off police officer, allows the Booksmart actor to fashion her own version of the person-of-the-law trope. Speaking of the Olivia Wilde-directed modern classic, Drive-Away Dolls, like last year’s Bottoms, is another strong film with fantastic female-driven leads.

And yet, there’s not much beyond the fun performances that resonate. The editing by Cooke works (she’s had her share of history working on some of the zanier Coen features). The production design by Yong Ok Lee, the costumes by Peggy Schnitzer, and the cinematography by Ari Wagner are all perfectly serviceable. Does that mean if the two leads and the supporting cast didn’t impress, the overall film would be more C range than B? Absolutely. But the cast is strong, and the comedy delivers plenty of laughs, so Drive-Away Dolls is a road trip worth taking.

Drive-Away Dolls opens in theaters on February 23, 2024.

7
Good
Written by
Peter Paras is pop culture writer who has been reviewing films for the past fifteen years. Raised in Chicago—but an Angeleno since the start of 21st century—he has plenty to say about films, television, videogames, and the occasional YouTube channel. He’s a frequent guest on Out Now with Aaron and Abe, as well as TV Campfire Podcast. His work has been published at Why So Blu, Game Revolution and E! Online. His favorites include: Sunset Blvd, Step Up 2 The Streets, Hackers, Paris Is Burning, both installments of The Last of Us, Destiny 2, and Frasier.

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