Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Johnny Deadline: DRIVE AWAY DOLLS

 by JB

Where, oh where, did this little film GO?

Two weeks ago, my wife and I noticed that Drive Away Dolls, the new Ethan Coen film featuring Margaret Qualley, Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, and Matt Damon, was playing at our local multiplex. We hastened to the theater with much haste. I was glad we did; a few days later, it was down to one screening a day. After a week and a half, it had disappeared completely.
THE PLOT IN BRIEF: A shady and mysterious man, Santos (Pascal) sits in a bar booth, nervously holding a briefcase. Things happen.

Meanwhile, friends Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) plan a trip to Tallahassee to visit Marian’s aunt. They avail themselves of Curlie’s Drive-Away Service, which will pay them to drive a client’s car to its intended destination. The girls do not know that through a series of mistakes, Santos’s briefcase and other personal effects are in the trunk of the car they are driving.

Will Jamie and Marian ever discover the truth? Will the bad guys ever get their property back? How many lesbian bars exist between Philadelphia and Tallahassee? How do Tiffany Plaster Caster (Miley Cyrus) and Senator Gary Channel (Matt Damon) fit into this twisted, twisted tale?
Earlier this year, our own Adam Riske recommended the film Sanctuary (2022) during our end-of-the-year podcast. I watched it one night and came away very entertained and impressed. My wife and I coined a word for that film’s niche subgenre: low-budget, single-set, sparsely-cast wonders that we've dubbed “COVID Movies.” One can tell that a slew of these direct-to-streaming darlings got the greenlight in the waning days of the pandemic because they were not only cheap to produce but endangered far fewer people by keeping cast and crew to an absolute minimum.

A subgenre of the COVID Movie may well be the “One and Done”—movies for which the cast, while impressive, is really only a parade of very short big-star cameos. In a way, the biggest budgeted, most prestigious “One and Done” movie ever made is... Oppenheimer! This too is the subgenre of Drive Away Dolls. SPOILER ALERT: Do not only see this film to see Pascal, Damon, or Cyrus. They are only in the film for about three minutes apiece.
After watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Sanctuary, and Drive Away Dolls, I am a committed fan of Margaret Qualley. What a range: cagey hippie in the Tarantino film, scheming hooker in Sanctuary, and now a character that would have resulted if two characters from previous Ethan Coen films—H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona and the Dude in The Big Lebowski—had somehow managed to have a daughter together. Qualley’s Jamie is one of the many highlights of Drive Away Dolls, with her outrageous accent and bizarre vocabulary. Her performance is a tour de force.

I thought Drive Away Dolls was a hoot from start to finish. I can’t remember laughing out loud more during a single film this year. In fact, my only quibble is that the film, being a farce, needs one more twist, one more plot complication, or one more strange character to make it complete. Of course, that would have affected the running time; another thing I like about Drive Away Dolls is that it is only 84 minutes long. I am getting very tired of every movie lately pushing the two- or three-hour time limit.

Proving that comedy is incredibly subjective, when I started seeking out reviews of this terrific little film, I was confronted with a wall of antipathy. Mark Kermode (a British critic on the YouTube machine I normally like and trust) hate-hate-hated the film. The amateur reviewers over at the iMDb use phrases like “Drive far away [....] this movie is a trainwreck,” “... It's not funny. I did not laugh once,” “I [...] felt like I had been left dumber than I was going in, “big swing and a big miss,” “...waste of my time,” “what a mess,” “completely stupid,” “just bad,” and “just don’t.”

Gee! Well, in the words of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in Singing in the Rain: “I liked it!”
This also highlights the schism between amateur and professional reviews over at the iMDb... while almost every amateur critic hated Drive Away Dolls, it fared a bit better in the hands of professional critics. Both Ebert.com’s Tomris Laffly and Slant magazine’s Kyle Turner gave it a score of 88/100; IndieWire’s Alison Foreman gave it an 83/100 and called it, “fiery, fiendish, and flawed.”

In an odd way, this film is the Bizarro World version of Love Lies Bleeding, which Rob DiCristino reviewed here last week. Similar characters, similar themes, and similar plot elements... but one is a blood-soaked neo noir, and the other is a boisterous, raunchy sex comedy. It’s a wonderful world!
FOOTNOTE: The film was originally titled Henry James’ Drive Away Dykes, but the MPAA and the studio got cold feet and changed the title. Poor Henry James. He wrote The Turn of the Screw! As a former English teacher, I think Henry James would have been fine with it.


  1. I'm a big fan of Geraldine Viswanathan, i'll watch anything she's in. Can't wait for this one

    1. Yeah, ever since Blockers (which she's very fun in and also has a lovely, heartfelt scene with John Cena in) I will catch her in everything,.