Directed by: Ethan Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Tricia Cooke
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bil Camp, Matt Damon
Released: February 22, 2024
Grade: B

Drive-Away Dolls

When asked about my favourite filmmakers, my list always includes Ethan and Joel Coen.  I was first introduced to their work in 1996 with Fargo and have since been wowed by the likes of The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty, No Country for Old Men, and Burn After Reading.  Just like a successful music band, Wikipedia and the broader film world sees the duo as a single “Coen brothers” entity given the challenge in differentiating the artistic contribution of each.  Of the 13 Academy Award nods they’ve received, 12 were joint nominations.  The only exception was Fargo when different rules were in place preventing two directors being credited (Joel therefore was director while Ethan was producer).

It’s therefore weird to be talking about the pair in isolation.  Joel directed his first feature independent of his brother in 2021 (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Ethan is now doing the same with Drive-Away Dolls.  Can I still call them Coen brothers movies?  If you’re worried why they’re doing their own thing, there’s no need to fret.  The 60-something-year-olds are still close and plan to work together again soon but for now, they each wanted a short break to pursue projects of personal interest.

With a runtime of just 84 minutes, Drive-Away Dolls is a short, slick comedy set in 1999.  It follows two young women, Jamie (Qualley) and Marian (Viswanathan), who embark on an impulsive, 2-day road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee to kick start a new life.  They grab a vehicle from the surly manager of a car-hire company (Camp) but, unbeknown to the women, there’s a silver briefcase hidden in the trunk which gangsters are looking to get their hands on.

The story doesn’t quite come together in a way which maximises humour.  The punchline is a good one (I won’t spoil it) but the scenes along the way involving the inept criminals are a too “one-note” and highlight the slight narrative.  The better subplot is the romantic one which develops between the chatty Jamie and the timid Marian.  These two couldn’t be more different in terms of personality but, in spending several days together, they gravitate towards a middle ground where each takes on attributes of the other.

In the same vein as a classic, low-brow American comedy, the film also has a few decent scenes which don’t advance the plot… but generate laughs regardless.  The best involves Jamie and Marian befriending a female soccer team after a food-related detour and it showcases the comedic timing of stars Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers).  Having names like Colman Domingo, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal on the poster might add to the box-office but for fans of their work, keep your expectations in check as their involvement is negligible (feels like they shot all their scenes in one day).

It takes a little while to get going but if looking for a quick, entertaining comedy with a splash of outlandishness, Drive-Away Dolls offers enough.