Thursday, February 22, 2024

A disappointing 'Drive-Away Dolls'


   I'm not sure how to classify Drive-Away Dolls, a solo directing effort by Ethan Coen, half of the great Coen Brothers team. The brothers are now working separately. Coen wrote the screenplay with his wife Tricia Cooke.
   Drive-Away Dolls almost feels like a Coen Brothers movie, maybe the rough draft for one. Remember, I said almost. Intermittently amusing in a deadpan way, Coen's episodic comedy drifts toward disappointment.
  Coen has described Drive-Away Dolls as a "queer" movie, a caper tale centered on two unabashedly gay women, the flamboyant Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and the more reserved Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan). 
  When the movie opens in 1999, Jamie has just dumped her girlfriend, a uniformed cop played by Beanie FeldsteinJamie departs the apartment they shared as Feldstein's character sobs hysterically and pries a dildo (a gimmicky gift from Jamie) off one of the walls. 
  The story then leaves Pennsylvania, taking to the road as Jamie and Marian head for Tallahassee in a drive-away vehicle they obtain from a low-rent business run by Curlie (Bill Camp).  
   The dour Curlie insists on not being called “Curlie” even though his name is embroidered on his shirt. First names are too familiar for a first meeting, Curlie insists.
  That should give you an idea about the humor.
  Unbeknownst to Jamie and Marian, a suitcase has been placed in the trunk of the Dodge Aires they're driving. A suave gangster (Colman Domingo) wants the suitcase back. He dispatches two goons  (C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick) to retrieve the goods.
  What's in the suitcase? The contents of the suitcase constitute one of the movie's surprises, a joke that you'll have to discover for yourself.
  Qualley dominates as a woman who dedicates herself to freeing the spirit of the more sensible Marian, encouraging her to approach sex with libidinous abandon.
  For the most part, sex is presented with raunchy comic flare as the movie looks to find its footing. A digressive story works its way through stops at lesbian bars, a make-out session with a girls' soccer team, and an eventual face-off with the women's inept pursuers. 
   Matt Damon shows up toward the end as a senator with an interest in acquiring the suitcase.
   Coen's willingness to indulge in the ridiculous offers a degree of fun as he goofs on B-movie tropes, but, in sum, Drive-Away Dolls comes off as a ragged, 84-minute helping of comic overreach.
     The main characters are up-front about their lesbianism or “queerness,” if that’s more appropriate. But like it-or-not assertions of sexuality aren’t enough to keep much of the rest of the movie from feeling stale.

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