The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, April 25, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Half of the infamous directorial Coen brothers ("The Big Lebowski," "No Country for Old Men"), Ethan Coen is no stranger to avant-garde storytelling on the big screen. His latest film, “Drive-Away Dolls,” embraces the experimental style that Coen knows best, but the messy production falls short on the charm of well-done absurdism.

The film follows friends Jamie and Marian as they embark on a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida to shake their romantic woes and get a fresh start.

Margaret Qualley, the actress who portrays Jamie, struggles with a too-thick Texan accent throughout the movie, while Geraldine Viswanathan's character Marian can't seem to crack a smile. 

Both main characters are lesbians, and “Drive-Away Dolls” is a refreshing pivot away from the over-sexualization of queer women in cinema. Jamie and Marian’s sexualities certainly matter to the story, but their characters are not solely defined by their preferences.

The film could easily be considered a sex comedy, and it is about time for queer audiences to have their raunchy fun in theaters, especially considering lesbianism is so often used as a function of erotica in heterosexual cinema.

Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, “Drive-Away Dolls” presents like a 1980s B-movie, relying heavily on dialogue rather than action-packed scenes. 

This is not an inherent weakness, however. If anything, the dialogue is one of the film’s few redeeming qualities. To keep audiences engaged, such a dialogue-heavy movie has no choice but to depend on a well-written script. 

While the script had potential — and plenty of raunchy, funny moments — Qualley and Viswanathan lacked the on-screen chemistry so crucial to successful dialogue scenes. Their purposefully mismatched characters might have been unlikely friends in the film’s reality, but the actresses were unconvincing in their partnership. 

The sometimes-flimsy conversation scenes are still more captivating than the off-hand psychedelic montages sprinkled throughout, which are entirely disarming. The montages swirl with bright colors and a strange, unnecessary Miley Cyrus guest appearance, removing audiences entirely from the buddy-cop-meets-queer-rom-com plotline.

These psychedelic montages are nostalgically misplaced, belonging to the 1990s prime of surrealism, an era Coen thrived in with “The Big Lebowski.” Though Coen might feel most comfortable in the bizarre, “Drive-Away Dolls” was weighed down by these long stints of hallucinogen-inspired graphics.

Beyond the misguided psychedelic montages and dialogue scenes, a subplot to the lesbian road trip makes up for the lack of action in the main storyline. Unbeknownst to the main characters, their unseeming rental car has a valuable suitcase in the trunk, the contents being too graphic and too funny to summarize.

A Coen movie would be incomplete without a team of chaotic criminals, and “Drive-Away Dolls” is no exception. A dysfunctional group of goons are in pursuit of the mysterious suitcase, leaving a trail of purposefully painful exchanges and the occasional violent outbreak in their wake. 

The unrelated parallel storylines might be charmingly mismatched in the best scenario, but “Drive-Away Dolls” feels entirely disjointed and underdeveloped. It tries too hard to be a screwball comedy, overcompensating with an abundance of sex jokes. 

The film is a fun watch if you can leave your expectations at concessions and expect half-baked, oddball entertainment. Plus, expanding the presence of lesbians in film beyond sexualization is a strong force in favor of “Drive-Away Dolls.”

However, the trailer advertises a different film entirely, and the script falls flat with poor casting choices. As the Coen brothers have always been known for lovable ensemble casts, the decision to focus on just two characters is unusual and unfortunate. 

“Drive-Away Dolls” will certainly find its fanbase in film students — as any Coen brother movie would — but the average moviegoer will likely be perplexed by the murky plot and disappointed by the final product.

Similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent film, “Licorice Pizza,” Ethan Coen’s attempt at a lesbian screwball comedy is a messy 90 minutes that attempts to echo the aged success of the director’s best work. That work, though, fails to materialize in a modern film.


@dthlifestyle |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.