28 Feb 2024

Review: Drive-Away Dolls

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 28 February 2024

It’s one of the great romantic comedy cliches - two on the run, one serious and uptight, the other a lovable loose unit. Not just romances of course.  Odd couples have worked in films as diverse as Midnight Run, Thelma and Louise, The Green Book and even Star Wars in a certain light.

But it works best in a romance, particularly a screwball comedy romance like Drive-Away Dolls.

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Photo: supplied

Mind you, this isn’t your standard 1930s Hollywood screwball comedy. The first thing you notice literally - is apparently graphic lesbian sex. 

Though it doesn’t show quite as much as you think, thanks to expert directing and editing by expert husband and wife directors and editors Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke.

Meet Jamie – played by delightfully screwball Margaret Qualley – who we pick up at a lesbian bar, getting a bit sick of the screwball life.  

She’d arranged to meet her uptight best friend Marian there – Geraldine Viswanath, who I didn’t know, but can’t wait to see again in something else.

We need to get them on the road, which happens when Jamie tells Marian the cheap way to get down to Florida.  

Pick up a Drive-Away car from a place like Curlie’s.  

But there’s a twist – of course there is. They accidentally pick up the wrong car – a car that had been booked by a trio of incompetent Coen Brothers goons to carry a Mysterious Package to a Mysterious Client.   

Jamie and Marian, happily unaware in their Drive-Away car, head off to Florida, while the three goons look for information about the girls from their friends.

Including Suki the angry cop – played by Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein.

One mark of a Coen movie – albeit technically half a Coen movie since brother Joel isn’t involved in Drive-Away Dolls – is expert writing. There’s not an unnecessary word in the film.  

Another mark is terrific casting – a dynamite blend of great new faces and bit parts from the likes of Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Miley Cyrus as a hippie plaster caster.

But this is also a Tricia Cooke movie. She edited many of the Coen brothers’ best movies but more to the point, she’s set out to make a full-on lesbian movie that is neither too serious nor earnestly mopey.  

It’s absolutely hilarious, with nods to the flat-out comedies of Ethan Coen’s past, but also their screwball forerunners. 

Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night leaps to mind.  So does Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels and particularly Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot with its Florida setting, its all-girl football team and its inept gangsters on their tail.

Though instead of one Marilyn Monroe there are now two – doing double duty as best friends and would be romantic couple.   

It all hinges on one unlikely McGuffin, borrowed from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. What’s in the box, we wonder?

I can tell you it’s something QT wouldn’t have thought up, or even if he’d thought it up, wouldn’t have pushed as far as Coen and Cooke do here.  

But that’s what occasionally happens when you ask a woman to do a job usually done by a man.

It’s possibly not a movie for all tastes, though I’m not so sure.   When I first heard about the film – originally called Drive-Away dykes - I blanched somewhat, wondering what was I getting myself into?  

But I’m sure 1958 audiences felt the same way going into the potentially tasteless, but subsequently classic Some Like it Hot.  

Like that film, the correct reaction is “Don’t worry about it”.  Is Drive-Away dolls perfect?  Of course not. Nobody’s perfect as we all know. But it is the best surprise party of the year, and it’s also likely to do rather more good than its earnest rivals.

Turns out they do make ‘em like they used to, if you know where to look.

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