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Home Road Trip Ethan Coen directs Drive-Away Dolls about two lesbians on a road trip

Ethan Coen directs Drive-Away Dolls about two lesbians on a road trip

by Staff

Now that I’ve scared away all the undesirables, let’s talk freely about the latest film by Ethan Coen, one-half of the Coen brothers team that brought us “No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo,” and “Raising Arizona.” “Drive-Away Dolls” leans into the absurdity of “Arizona”‘s chase scenes, with Coen favorite Carter Burwell providing the score.

Additionally, there are “goons” (played by Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson) whose relationship reminds us of Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s characters in “Fargo.” This movie erupts with occasional, unexpected bursts of violence, though it’s far less graphic than in most of the Coens’ work.

There are plans for the Coens to reunite on an upcoming horror film, but the past few years have beget solo projects. Joel directed the excellent 2021 film “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” starring his wife, Frances McDormand, and Denzel Washington as the Bard’s dastardly couple. Ethan made the 2022 documentary “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” and this film, which he wrote with his wife (and the Coens’s longtime editor), Tricia Cooke.

It’s fun to look at their solo work to try and deduce which familiar characteristics each Coen brother brings to their collaborations. Based on the evidence presented here, they both have a penchant for droll dialogue, sinister yet quirky characters who are perfect for the actors playing them, and gruesome violence. However, “Drive-Away Dolls” proves that Ethan’s the raunchier brother; this is the most sexually explicit movie either of them has made. Younger brothers are always naughtier, aren’t they?

But I digress. Our drive-away dolls have the expected personalities of road trippers. Marian is quieter and more reserved. Her outfits are so conservative that the locals at the Philadelphia lesbian bar she hangs out at mock her style. Plus, she’s still pining over her ex, and has remained celibate since they broke up ages ago.

Beanie Feldstein in “Drive-Away Dolls.”Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features

Jamie, on the other hand, is a Southern-accented tornado of brashness, a free spirit whose self-assigned job is to loosen Marian up — and get her laid — on their journey to Tallahassee, Fla. Said trip is necessary because neither woman is happy with their current situation. Marian feels aimless and lonely, and Jamie has just been dumped by Sukie (Beanie Feldstein, hilarious and terrifying), the police officer girlfriend she’s been cheating on with reckless abandon.

For the uninitiated, a drive-away is a rental car that will be dropped off at a location other than its origin. The Aries was supposed to be rented by the goons and driven to Tallahassee. So when Jamie asks about “a car to Tallahassee,” poor Curlie assumes she’s the intended driver. Under the threat of death, The Chief sends the goons on a wild goose chase to retrieve the car.

As in every road trip movie, there are numerous detours. This film includes side trips to lesbian bars with delightful names like “Sugar and Spice” and “The Butter Churn” and a basement make-out session with a willing group of female athletes heading to an away game.

And of course, Jamie and Marian find The Chief’s suitcase, the item many men will die for during the 84 minutes it takes to tell this story. Pedro Pascal, the original owner of this contraband, meets a gruesome fate in the first scene. You’ll never look at a corkscrew the same way again.

Unlike “Pulp Fiction,” this film’s mysterious luggage is more than just a MacGuffin. It’s a symbolic commentary that supports and highlights this film’s queer mind-set. I wouldn’t dare tell you what’s in that attaché case, but I will say It has something to do with Tina (Miley Cyrus), a hippie who appears in the psychedelic interludes that buffer each section of the film.

Matt Damon in “Drive-Away Dolls.”Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features

The case may also have ties to a creepy “family values”-spouting senator from Florida named Gary Channel (Matt Damon, relishing the chance to troll Republicans).

In fact, this entire film is a troll, a refreshing, claws-out swipe at anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and beliefs. It’s also a testament to the power of queer people in front of and behind the camera. In a Gay City News interview, Cooke, who is lesbian, said, “We wanted to make sure people knew a lesbian was involved creatively.” “Drive-Away Dolls” makes that clear in every delightful frame.

★★★

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS

Directed by Ethan Coen. Written by Coen and Tricia Cooke. Starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Miley Cyrus, Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal. At Coolidge Corner, AMC Boston Common, Alamo Drafthouse Seaport, AMC Causeway, suburbs. 84 minutes. R (the men get killed, the women get lucky — explicitly so)


Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe’s film critic.

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