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Drive Away Dolls ★★★



Released: 15 March 2024

Director: Ethan Coen

Starring: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan. Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon

Throughout their career, the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan) have defied categorisation shifting between genres from Crime to Comedy via Thrillers and Westerns yet the idiosyncratic nature of their scripts and characters feels like a connective tissue. Joel made his solo feature debut in 2021 with The Tragedy of Macbeth. Now it’s Ethan’s turn, bringing us Drive Away Dolls. A Queer road-trip movie with a star-studded cast, that feels in the wheelhouse of what the brothers were doing in the 80s and 90s with the likes of Raising Arizona, Fargo and The Big Lebowski.

It hinges on Margaret Qualley’s Jamie and Geraldine Viswanathan’s Marian, a pair of unlikely friends, Jamie is a wild Texan who is carefree while Marian is more reserved and keeps her head in her Henry James books. While on a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida the pair get embroiled in a shady scheme involving a briefcase and a box with a severed head.

Qualley and Viswanathan are a fantastic lead pairing, with Jamie feeling like a modern update of the quirky female characters encountered across the Coens oeuvre. Of course, Qualley has been on the up for a few years with parts in The Nice Guys and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood among a string of others but it is Viswanathan who impresses in a potentially star-making turn, holding her own against established co-stars which include Colman Domingo, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal in a collection of enjoyable cameos.

The chaotic editing gives the film a unique and unpredictable edge but eventually comes across as a poor Edgar Wright imitation and can distract from the central narrative. When Jamie and Marian aren’t on screen, the momentum dips slightly although the inept nature of heavies Arliss and Flint bring laughs with their incessant bickering and gullible nature.

At 84 minutes it races along and feels less cohesive than the brother’s efforts, although the absurdist plot brings much hilarity and it is fun seeing some of the cast playing against type in enjoyable if underdeveloped roles. While it may not come close to Fargo, Lebowski or Blood Simple, a new Coen film is always welcome and this adds to their already legendary filmography. If far from perfect, Drive Away Dolls is still an enjoyable, at times outlandish romp.

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