'Drive-Away Dolls' - A Fresh Start

"Drive-away Dolls" via IMDb.

Said to be the first installment in a trilogy, “Drive-Away Dolls” (Focus), which was originally titled “Drive-Away Dykes” marks Ethan Coen’s solo narrative directorial debut. Co-written by Coen and his out lesbian wife Tricia Cooke (seriously, Google it), “Drive-Away Dolls” harkens back to early Coen brothers films “Blood Simple” (the violence) and “Raising Arizona” (the comedic, rapid-fire dialogue and situations). Additionally, there is the presence of queer characters, something the filmmakers dabbled with in “Miller’s Crossing,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” and especially “Hail, Caesar!”

A pair of unlikely queer BFFs – sexually promiscuous Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and sexually repressed Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) – leave 1999 Philadelphia for a road trip to Tallahassee. Jamie, who has been caught cheating on her police officer life-partner Sukie (queer actor Beanie Feldstein) decides to join Marian on her Florida journey to see her Aunt Ellis (Connie Jackson).

At the drive-away car joint, surly Curlie (Bill Camp) gives Jamie and Marian the keys to a Dodge Aries, and they take off for the Sunshine State. Unfortunately for Curlie, the Aries was intended for other drivers, who were supposed to deliver the metal briefcase in the trunk (as well as the severed head on dry ice) to conservative politician Senator Channel (Matt Damon). The contents of the briefcase – let’s call them a loving tribute to the late Cynthia Plaster Caster – are connected to a youthful indiscretion of the Channel’s which are hinted at via a series of groovy (if initially confusing) psychedelic flashbacks involving Miley Cyrus.

In hot pursuit of Jamie and Marian are a pair of bumbling goons, Arliss (Joey Slotnick) and Flint (C.J. Wilson). Under the watchful, and always disappointed, eye of their boss Chief (gay Oscar nominee-Colman Domingo), the dumb duo screws up at almost every turn, resulting in a couple of surprising deaths. 

Meanwhile, Jamie and Marian, who clearly have the upper hand, eventually come face-to-face face with Channel in a lesbian bar where they are rewarded handsomely. The same can be said for the audience with the movie’s insane, but satisfying, conclusion involving Sukie. This is where “Drive-Away Dolls” is also vaguely reminiscent of the Coens’ “Burn After Reading” from 2008.

Full of laugh-out-loud moments, “Drive-Away Dolls” is driven by the performances of the leads. Qualley and Viswanathan prove themselves to be up to the task of carrying the movie. Additionally, with scenes in women’s bars, including The She Shed and Sugar & Spice, “Drive-Away Dolls” also function as a subtle homage to lesbian bars, and reminder of how necessary they are to the community. 

Rating: A-


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