'Drive-Away Dolls' review: Trashy in a good way

With Drive-Away Dolls, Ethan Coen is happily embracing the “trashy” and “stupid.” After decades directing alongside his brother Joel (The Tragedy of Macbeth), he’s teamed with long-time Coen Bros collaborator Tricia Cooke, who edited a slew of their films alongside the siblings, including O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and The Big Lebowski. And the result of Cooke and Coen’s latest collaboration, which the married couple co-wrote, edited, and directed together, is a gleefully outrageous comedy about sex, death, and dildos.

Bursting with stars like Geraldine Viswanathan, Margaret Qualley, Beanie Feldstein, Matt Damon, and Pedro Pascal, Drive-Away Dolls shares some DNA with the Coen Bros.’ best crime comedies. But under Cooke’s influence, there’s some spicy new terrain to be trekked. This movie is as racy as it is unabashedly entertaining. And yeah, some may call it trashy. But trashy done right can be a treasure.

What’s Drive-Away Dolls about? 

Beanie Feldstein plays a tough cop with a broken heart in "Drive-Away Dolls."

Credit: Focus Features

Inspired by Cooke’s experiences in lesbian bars in her youth, this 1999-set comedy follows two sapphic besties, uptight Marian (Miracle WorkersGeraldine Viswanathan) and free-spirited Jamie (Sanctuary‘s Margaret Qualley) on a road trip meant to shake loose the rut that has become their lives. However, what should have been a gleeful getaway peppered with hookups and hot nights becomes intense when they discover they’ve accidentally crossed a very powerful man (Matt Damon in a surly cameo) and his very violent associates (including Academy Award nominee for Rustin, Colman Domingo). 

Making matters even messier, Jamie’s ex Sukie (Beanie Feldstein on fire) is coping with heartbreak through indignation and wrath. So whether or not she’ll be a hero or another foe in their journey is a thrilling question that can only be answered outside a lesbian bar with a gun and a dog named Alice B. Toklas. Naturally. 

Like Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy or The Big Lebowski, Drive-Away Dolls is a tale of good-hearted but naive folks confronted by conspiracy and mayhem they couldn’t imagine. But scripted by Coen and Cooke, there’s a unique bounciness to the proceedings, which includes a shame-free celebration of sapphic lust. 

Drive-Away Dolls is a giddy queer comedy. 

Geraldine Viswanathan and Margaret Qualley star in "Drive-Away Dolls."

Credit: Focus Features

Fans of Coen Bros banter will thrill over the dialogue, which offers explosions of peculiar pondering, cheeky rejoinders, and witty wordplay. Garrulous, daffy, and ultimately daring, the dynamic lesbian duo at its center fit perfectly in the wider world of H.I., Marge, and even Anton. Qualley and Viswanathan have terrific chemistry and effervescent comedic timing, which makes their odd couple click from a tossed bag of frozen vegetables. Yet on top of familiar Coen fun, there’s a generous slather of bawdy jokes about sex, dildos, and an eccentric historical figure (played here by Grammy-winning provocateur Miley Cyrus). 

Just as O Brother, Where Art Thou? ushered audiences into an Odyssean barrage of Southern settings — some charming, some harrowing — Drive-Away Dolls does the same through the lens of its sapphic heroines. Some sequences are set in rainbow-lit bars with body shots on the menu. Another scene embeds us in a slumber party with a circle of female athletes making a game of making out. Seedy hotel rooms become a recurring respite. And when the pair gets to Florida, they drive under the unblinking eyes of a conservative politician’s billboard, to which Jamie warns, “Holy shit, Florida. Lesbian, do not let the sun go down on you here” — an ominous reminder that not all spaces are so safe for girls who love girls. 


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Beyond these sexy (and sometimes scary) settings, Cooke and Coen also loop in a love story that is silly but sweet. And for Marian, who struggles to flirt — much less fling herself into casual sex — colorful flashbacks look fondly back on a first crush and bit of peeping-tommery that comes off as more winsome than worrisome. 

Drive-Away Dolls’ cast kicks ass. 

Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, and Colman Domingo play a trio of baddies in "Drive-Away Dolls."

Credit: Focus Features

Qualley and Visawathan are a perfect fit for Cooke and Coen’s material, nailing not only the sharp dialogue and crisp pacing but also the physical comedy, which includes mad mugging and the occasional kooky O-face. And they are surrounded by an incredible supporting cast. 

Feldstein is ferocious and funny as a snarling cop. Domingo has sneering swagger as a mysterious tough called The Chief. Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson offer a rotted version of the Odd Couple dynamic as a pair of goons; respectively, a gregarious pseudo-intellectual and a growling bruiser. Damon’s role is short, but it’s not the size that matters here, as he makes the most out of every frame, oozing with a nefarious arrogance. Pedro Pascal, internet obsession and Last of Us star, is likewise seen little yet makes a big impact, leaning not only into his skill for broad comedy but also his Game of Thrones past. 

Last but not least, character actor Bill Camp shines as a growling grump named Curlie, who runs the car rental place where misadventure kicks off. With a scruffy exhaustion and pesky peccadillos he’s quick and grumbling to unfurl, he fits in instantly with the coterie of quirky American store clerks who are a precious — though often overlooked — element of Coen Bros iconography. While the leading ladies get the most punchlines, Camp makes his small role count by breathing deeply and hilariously as a bone-tired man who is over this romp before it’s even begun. 

Drive-Away Dolls is a treat for those seeking saucy fun.

Matt Damon plays an American politician with a secret in "Drive-Away Dolls"

Credit: Focus Features

Thrillingly, Drive-Away Dolls is where the Coen Bros. aesthetic and queer cinema collide, even with only one bro. Teamed with Cooke, Ethan explores the pleasures to be found in a trashy B-movie plot. Unmoored by the pressure to be Oscar material or a big summer blockbuster, this creative team comes up with a comedy that brings fresh dazzle to the underserved subgenre of lesbian laffers. 

Qualley, often dazzling, is an absolute firecracker as a thrill-seeking wild child with a heart of gold. Viswanathan plays the straight man, as it were, grounding the emotional beats and the life-or-death stakes with an alert anxiety. Feldstein walks in Holly Hunter’s striding steps, and does so with aplomb. And the rest of the cast positively crackles. 

The jokes are a joy, whether they are born from racing (or racy) repartee, a sultry prop, or a ludicrous plot twist. And overall, there’s an exhilarating spontaneity as Cooke and Coen embrace the freedom of a movie that doesn’t have to be for everyone.

In the end, Drive-Away Dolls is a joyous romp, stuffed with fun, sex appeal, and stars. What more could we ask for at a night out at the movies? 

Drive-Away Dolls opens in theaters Feb. 23.

By 111 Tech

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