FILM REVIEW: ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is a Runaway Hit

In Ethan Coen’s first solo narrative feature film as a director since he and his brother, Joel, went their separate filmmaking ways, Drive-Away Dolls is a perfect “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” movie. With a runtime under 90 minutes and an extremely specific brand of Coen humor that is impossible to replicate, Drive-Away Dolls is the type of movie to bring in one of the biggest stars in the world – say, a Matt Damon or Pedro Pascal  – for a narratively pivotal five-minute cameo. The characters and locations that are not your typical central components of a Hollywood movie. The violence is brutal and bloody, but also comical in its matter-of-factness. In other words, it’s a Coen movie.

Ethan Coen wrote this film alongside his wife, Tricia Cooke. They have been collaborators and partners for more than 30 years, and this project has been gestating for nearly 20 years. It’s a buddy road movie, led by the duo of Geraldine Viswanathan and Margaret Qualley.  Viswanathan plays it straight in the role of Marian, a 20-something who prefers professionalism to partying and is doing just fine living a relatively quiet daily life. Meanwhile, Qualley (in the role of Jamie) is hamming it up as she does so well, leaning into an exaggerated Texas accent and her flying-by-the-seat-of-her-pants type character. Looking at Qualley’s background – from growing up on a ranch in Missoula, Montana, to her teenage years in Asheville, North Carolina, to her mother’s (actress Andie MacDowell) Gaffney, South Carolina roots – it’s no surprise that she was able to tap in to a rural accent of this nature.

The main success of any buddy comedy is going to rely on the central relationship, and that’s why Drive-Away Dolls works as well as it does. At a certain point, this evolves into rom-com territory, with Jamie and Marian each learning how to express their love for each other in different ways – whether it be platonically or romantically, emotionally or physically. When all is said and done, it’s a beautiful love story about two women who cultivate a sense of honesty and vulnerability between them. Even in the midst of all the plot shenanigans involving one of the funniest MacGuffins in recent cinematic memory and a crucial senatorial campaign (Matt Damon’s Senator Greg Channel), Drive-Away Dolls is about the love of Jamie and Marian. This is where the Coens have always found their stride as storytellers – offbeat character studies about people with all kinds of good and bad luck. 

Also starring Beanie Feldstein and Oscar-nominee Colman Domingo, Drive-Away Dolls is now available on VOD to rent or buy.