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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Drive-Away Dolls


Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Jamie (Margaret Qualley) run afoul of some dangerous men in Drive-Away Dolls (Distributed by Focus Features)

Drive-Away Dolls is set in 1999 and it feels like it would’ve fit right in then. It is a Coen Brothers comedy with a splash of Tarantino (it was directed/cowritten by Ethan Coen). It is a crime story with quirky asides, crass humor, overly talky criminals, sudden violence and a conspiracy. The major difference, even in comparison to other Coen stories, is that it doesn’t come remotely close to taking itself the slightest bit seriously. There is no insight into the human condition here. The plot twists are ridiculous and the pacing is lightning fast. Enough of the gags land, though what really makes this fun is the amused, strangely laid-back, chemistry of the stars. They truly seem to enjoy each other’s company, which makes their developing relationship more believable than it probably is in the screenplay.


It is messy, kind of rushed and has weird detours. But the screenplay is never boring and the cast gets the most out of nearly every opportunity. I liked it as a 77-minute diversion (not including the end credits). While it is far from perfect, it is a good time.


Jamie is a free-spirit who enjoys life however she sees fit in any given moment. Marian is the complete opposite; uptight and scared of taking the tiniest chance. When Jamie’s girlfriend kicks her out of their apartment (for rampant cheating), the two ladies decide to go on a road trip together to Tallahassee. After a misunderstanding at a car rental place sees them unwittingly driving off with someone’s valuable possessions, they find themselves on the run from dangerous (if somewhat incompetent) criminals.


There is something mildly nostalgic about Drive-Away Dolls. It is a throwback in a lot of ways. The borderline screwball tone is very mid-90s indie comedy. The bumbling villains and colorful supporting characters played by a strong cast of character actors feels like it comes from an even older tradition. The odd-couple friendship between Jamie and Marian is almost a comedic/romantic variation on Thelma and Louise (just without the murder). Ethan Coen and cowriter Tricia Cooke play around a lot with the conventions of stories like this, goofing on ideas the Coens worked with 30 years ago. It is a road trip comedy with lots of sex jokes. There’s nothing particularly original about it, but the actors are so committed and the movie never gives the audience enough time to grow frustrated with the parts that don’t really work.

The Chief (Colman Domingo) and his goons (C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick) look for their stolen goods

The leads are especially good. Margaret Qualley is hilarious as the confident, adventurous, Jamie. This is a woman who says what she thinks and does what she feels like. While she makes brash decisions that put herself and Marian in uncomfortable situations, she cares for other people. She gets in trouble through carelessness, yet it’s not intentional. Qualley’s body language gets a lot of laughs, as does her exaggerated southern accent. The look on her face when she sees what they have unknowingly been transporting in their trunk is incredible.


As Marian, Geraldine Viswanathan proves she deserves more starring roles. Her delivery, making it sound like she would rather not have to talk, is a great counter to Jamie’s fearlessness. Her character arc is legitimately engaging. Marian’s emotional development is interesting to watch. Viswanathan also has excellent comic timing.


Then there is the supporting cast, including Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Bill Camp, Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon. All of them have at least one funny moment. Drive-Away Dolls is the type of project where a talented cast comes together with a good filmmaker and they just have a good time going over the top. It may be flawed, but I definitely had fun on the ride.

 

3½ out of 5

 

Cast:

Margaret Qualley as Jamie

Geraldine Viswanathan as Marian

Beanie Feldstein as Sukie

Joey Slotnick as Arliss

C.J. Wilson as Flint

Colman Domingo as The Chief

 

Directed by Ethan Coen

Written by Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke

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