Drive-Away Dolls

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Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke have made their debut fiction feature together. It’s called Drive-Away Dolls and it follows two women on a road trip who get caught up with some inept crooks as they fall in love with each other. It’s a film of dark humor, random asides, and absurdism. Drive-Away Dolls is very much akin to the films Ethan made with his brother Joel, particularly Raising Arizona (1987).

Coen’s style, his brand, is immediately recognizable in Drive-Away Dolls. The dialogue, especially the lines that Margaret Qualley is given, have the signature quirky quality. But the writing is always light and comedic in Drive-Away Dolls. There’s no heart to the film, things just happen to the leads in a succession of predictable episodes. The film is at its smartest in scenes that develop neither character nor plot.

The fact that Coen’s style permeates every frame of the film is its blessing as well as its curse. One can sense what’s coming next because of Coen’s familiar style. Yet, that style is responsible for some truly outrageous and memorable scenes in the film. What’s lacking is a subversive edge or more profound emotional stakes. The danger is never real.

Drive-Away Dolls needs something to garner the emotional investment of the viewer. Something like the maternal connection in Raising Arizona that can ground Coen’s bonkers plot in a very human reality. The love story between Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan feels too convenient and tagged onto the film. Their romance feels as inauthentic as Matt Damon’s attempt at assassination.

But even trite Coen Brothers related material is, at the least, diverting. When Drive-Away Dolls doesn’t work it has the benefit of the charismatic performance of Margaret Qualley to sustain it. If this film were made twenty years ago as intended it would have been something new and subversive. But as it is Drive-Away Dolls is merely competent escapism.