DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS Review: Dykes on the Run

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS Review: Dykes on the Run

There are times when a movie both needs to be un-serious, and needs to hit its target of cultural critique. There are times that call for some indie b-movie wit and raunchiness, a story that finds its charm in odd twists and turns that don't make sense if you try to connect the dots, but have enough zaniness to be enjoyed on their own merits. While not quite the slamdunk one would hope for, given the pedigree behind it, Drive-Away Dolls has its fair share of zanny charm, cultural critique, and poking gentle love and fun at the crime caper subgenre.

Directed by Ethan Coen, co-written with his wife and frequent editor Tricia Cooke, the story, follows two friends (and lesbians): the slutty and irreverant Jamie (Margaret Qualley, Fosse/Verdon, My Salinger Year), whose cheatin' ways have made her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) kick her out; and the uptight, near-celibate Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan, Blockers). It's 1999, and they're taking a road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee, one that involves driving someone else's car. Through mistaken identity, they're given a vehicle that contains some precious and in-demand objects - in demand by people important enough to hunt the girls down.

Fear not: while there is some violence, and a few people definitely die dramatic deaths (certainly one of the best uses of a corkscrew as a weapon, with pun intended), it's not our heroines (sorry, spoiler, but you know Coen & Cooke are not going to off these cuties), and the film is overall poking fun at both the clichés of the indie crime film, and the tropes of the road movie. Setting it in 1999 not only allows for the lack of GPS and google maps, and cell phones that still have antennas, but it's a nice nod to the Sundance indies of yore that felt a little down 'n dirty.

And it does have that nice, grimey feel: an old Dodge car with some homespun wisdom graffittied on, motels that look like they just got cleaned up after a bloody crime, suburban residential streets that have that eerie emptiness, dyke bars with women of all stripes that still need to come together in queerness despite living in areas incresingly hostile. And whatever is in this magic case - well, it'de certainly unexpected, and maybe not quite the revelation an audience might hope for, but it's still quite amusing and makes for a good enough joke. Some between-scene transitions evoking 60s psychedelica seem out of place until given further explanation, again maybe a bit too much of an inside joke, but funny enough.


Jamie, being sexually adventurous (her prize gift to her ex was a wall dildo), knows the location of the dyke bar, it seems, in every town they might hit on their journey. Marian seems to wait for the smallest opportunity to rush back to the motel and her Henry James novel. This obvious odd couple are the kind that would likely only be friends in the movies, but the actors bring such life and depth to their characters, it's impossible not to wish you could join them. Qualley have never been better, making me wonder why she hasn't been cast in more comedies, and Coen knows how to get her to be just enough over-the-top to fit into the caper mode, while still having at least one toe on the ground. Visnawathan arguably has more heavy lifting, being the 'straight' woman, but easily gets to our hearts as a girl just trying to find a way to bring together her sexual desires with her need for some stability.

If at times the story maybe loses a bit of its energy, maybe the script being stretched a little longer than it needed to be (even at a lean 84 minutes), it's the cast that keep this film going. Feldstein absolutely steals every scene she's in with her righteous cheated-on-girlfriend-energy, Colman Domingo plays it cool as the story's baddie who you would absolutely not want to meet along in a dark alley, C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as the two goons who just can't get their acts together, and Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon both have only one scene each but they bring their A-game. This story really is about the company we keep, and how it brings out the best and worst in each other.

While not every joke lands or gets a strong enough belly laugh, Drive-Away Dolls wears its indie caper nostalgia well enough on its sleeve, and is fun enough, charming enough, clever enough, and luckily does not take itself too seriously in its road trip of sexual pleasure, secret revelations, and a not too subtle f-you to southern US conservative politics.

Drive-Away Dolls

  • Ethan Coen
  • Ethan Coen
  • Tricia Cooke
  • Margaret Qualley
  • Geraldine Viswanathan
  • Beanie Feldstein
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Ethan CoenTricia CookeMargaret QualleyGeraldine ViswanathanBeanie FeldsteinActionComedyThriller

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