Film Critic Joel Bishton reviews Drive-Away Dolls, finding it to be a classic quasi-Coen caper

Written by Joel Bishton
2nd Year History student. Interested in nerdy film, tv and musicals
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Is Drive Away Dolls a Coen brothers film? It certainly contains a Coen (Ethan, on directing, co-writing and producing duties) but another is lacking. And maybe it’s the absence of that Coen, combined with Coen’s writing partner and wife, Tricia Cooke, that makes this film feel like a Coens comedy with a beating, romantic heart.

The film is romantic without being sentimental and avoids the obvious tropes of the romcom

This applies to the plot. Two lesbians, the outgoing and confident Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and the introverted Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) are in a funk. Jamie’s just broken up with her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) and decides to drag Marian on a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida. They hire a car which was meant to be used by two criminals (Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson) to transport a briefcase to Florida. The film then intercuts between the two sets of drivers, interspersing that with a series of psychedelic interludes eventually featuring Cynthia Plaster Caster (Miley Cyrus) which begin to make sense by the third act. 

Let’s not beat about the bush. This seems like a Coens crime film. If anyone else made it, they’d be accused of ripping off/homaging them. The crimes remind the viewer of films like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, both ‘shaggy dog crime stories’. They seem like hardboiled crime stories, but in the end they collapse like souffle. The crimes are diversions from the true story underneath. You become so wrapped in a crime story, that works but doesn’t matter, that you don’t notice what it is that you’re watching. In this case, it’s a relationship movie.

…it [reminds] the viewer of films like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, both ‘shaggy dog crime stories’

This is a film that, for all its crime story trappings is a film about its two protagonists: Jamie and Marian. I don’t want to spoil the later developments of the film, but they go through an almost-classic arc. Coen and Cooke balance well the desire to show their friendship, whilst also showing how irritated they can be with each other. They also do well with their slow-burn relationship. The film is romantic without being sentimental and avoids the obvious tropes of the romcom. The sections of the film with the two of them lack conflict to the point where they could become an art movie. This is where the crime plot comes from, motivating the characters and giving you a sub plot to cut away to. 

This is an unabashedly queer film. It fits in with an increasing trend around the presentation of lesbianism in mainstream cinema.  To me, the film is the latest part of a heritage that goes from But I’m a Cheerleader (an influence on the film) to Portrait of a Lady on Fire to last year’s Bottoms, with this year also seeing Saint Maud director Rose Glass’ Love Lies Bleeding. This is most similar to Bottoms, with a very similar dynamic in Dolls to that of PJ and Josie.

Verdict:

This is romantic, without being hackneyed, a crime story that works but doesn’t matter, and a comedy that has jokes about penises and Henry James. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10


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