Drive Away Dolls Review

Ethan Coen’s Drive Away Dolls aims to be a fun slice of midnaight madness, but it’s grating and not as amusing as it thinks it is.

PLOT: Two young women, fleeing heartbreak, embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee. Unfortunately for them, the drive-away car they sign for happens to have some precious cargo being sought by deadly parties. 

REVIEW: As a lifelong fan of the Coen Bros, it’s a drag for me to say that Drive Away Dolls is a bit of a dud. Granted, it’s apparently “trying” to be bad, with it a gay-themed take on B-movies, but it’s so winking and self-aware that it feels more like an extended episode of Showtime’s cheesy Rebel Highway series from the nineties than a real movie. Running just a hair over eighty minutes, it feels like little more than a lark for one-half of one of the greatest directing duos ever. For some, that’s reason enough to make it worth seeing, but despite some inspired moments, it largely falls flat. 

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan star as Jamie and Marian, two gay young women looking to shake their lives up. In classic quasi-rom-com fashion, the two are opposites, with Jamie the sexually voracious one. Marian prefers planting her nose in the literature of Thomas Hardy and early nights. Jamie’s been sleeping around on her cop girlfriend (played by Beanie Feldstein) and needs to lay low for a while, so the two head to Tallahassee to visit Marian’s aunt. They sign up for a “drive-away”, where they drop off a car in Tallahassee for a shady small-time car dealer (Bill Camp – delivering the film’s most amusingly deadpan performance), only to discover they’re transporting precious cargo being sought but a well-connected big shot (Colman Domingo).

While it certainly seems like the kind of movie that would be fun for Coen to do, he and his producer/screenwriter/ editor, Tricia Cooke, get carried away in trying to make it self-consciously a B-movie. I suppose we’ve never seen a “love on the run” type movie from a lesbian perspective before (although we’re about to get a great one with Love Lies Bleeding), but the film is all silly/ no substance. It’s all done in this nudge-nudge, wink-wink fashion that grows tiresome, with the girls randomly being invited to high school “basement parties,” straight out of a 50s Roger Corman movie (with a gay twist) where all the girls are gay and randomly make out with each other, and other such episodes. If you decide to roll with it, you might find Drive Away Dolls fun in a stoner way, but the problem is that as much as it’s trying to be amusing, it isn’t.

Drive-Away Dolls (1)

Virtually all the gags fall flat, with a big star-cameo in the last chuck of the film being embarrassingly telegraphed. The only positive thing about Drive Away Dolls is that Qualley and Viswanathan do their best with the material. Qualley is tasked with delivering a very over-the-top (Coen-esque) performance as the “wacky” Jamie and certainly seems game. You’ve never seen her like this before, and she deserves kudos for willing to be so “out there” in her performance. At the same time, Viswanathan gets to be lower-key (and funnier) as the more buttoned-up Marian. The large ensemble cast shows up to play in the Coen sandbox, but only Pedro Pascal, in a tiny role, really makes the most of his cameo. The others tend to be grating – except for Domingo, who is the only one who gets to underplay a bit (it makes him seem like he’s in a different movie from everyone else  – a better movie). 

In the lead-up to its release, Coen and Cooke warned that critics might not get the vibe they’re going for, and that’s fair. As a midnight movie, Drive Away Dolls could find a following, as it has aspirations of being high camp. For me, it’s just not memorable, funny or stylish enough to work as the kind of entertainment it wants to be. Midnight movies are supposed to be fun, but this is just grating. 

Drive-Away Dolls

Drive Away Dolls



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.