By Elias Savada.

Gags and pratfalls ensue, many funny and more than a few blush-worthy as the film speeds through its brief 84-minute running time.”

Sure, we’ve been conditioned over the last 40 years that you can’t have one Coen (brother) without the other. Two peas in a pod. Ethan and Joel have made so many great films together (Fargo is my fave) that some viewers might wonder — now that they are traveling in separate directions — that you’ll only get half a film from either of them. Quite the contrary, it’s like getting twice as much. Joel Coen’s entrance into brother-less writing and directing was the highly stylized, Academy Award-nominated The Tragedy of Macbeth in 2021, while Ethan struck out on his own with the music documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind (2022).

For his first solo fiction feature, Ethan has teamed up with a different member of his family — wife Tricia Cooke, an editor on more than a half-dozen of the brothers’ efforts and now her husband’s co-writer and one of the new film’s producers. Drive-Away Dolls is a lesbian road movie comedy caper in which two young women find themselves chased by an inept gang of gangsters. It’s a gas.

Apparently one of the benefits of the COVID pandemic was that it gave the couple time to flesh out the original idea that Cooke first pitched back in the early 2000s (the film is set in a low tech 1999, at year’s end, as other folks wrestle with a possible millennium wrinkle). Previously known as Drive-Away Dykes (which gets a wink-wink reference at the film’s end), it’s a natural for the filmmaking couple. Cooke, who identifies as queer (she and Coen call their marriage unconventional), decided to pen a movie with “a lot of sex but fun sex, not socially important sex. Like you see in a B-movie, not in an important movie.”

Drive-Away Dolls (2024) - IMDb

Add in a comic mix akin to The Odd Couple (but instead of linguini on the wall, it’s a dildo), some hoodlums outta The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a pinch of Kiss Me Deadly intrigue (look it up kids, it’s a 1955 film noir masterpiece), a handful of small roles filled in with big names doing a few days’ work (Colman Domingo, Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, and a phone-in from Miley Cyrus), and you get a lovely off-the-beaten-path romp. Gags roll in and out as the film’s protagonists, the extrovert Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and her very prim friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), make their way from Philadelphia to Tallahassee. (Most of the movie was shot in and around Pittsburgh.)

The journey starts after Jamie is tossed out of her kickass kop girlfriend Sukie’s (Beanie Feldstein) apartment. The breakup splits up numerous sex toys accumulated by the couple, which portends more of the same devices will appear as major ingredients — large and small — in this wild, ribald, and weird tale.

The two gals have their own view of life. Jamie is carefree and careless, always looking for an easy sexcapade, while Marian guards her sexuality as if imprisoned by an chastity belt. As they drive south in a car given them by a vehicle delivery service, they are unaware the auto has a suitcase hidden in the spare tire well, filled with some extortion fodder. The Chief (Domingo, playing with cartoonish bravado) and his two goons (Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson) are on the girls’ trail, although they have to wait for evidentiary breadcrumbs to track the duo through the limited number of lesbian bars and related haunts between Pennsylvania and Florida in the pre-GPS, Google Maps era. All you need is a flat tire in the script for its leading actors to realize their road trip has more than pothole problems.

Gags and pratfalls ensue, many funny and more than a few blush-worthy as the film speeds through its brief 84-minute running time. The lead actors are delightful as damsels-not-scared-of-distress, even as the characters only realize they might be in the middle of a criminal nightmare. The supporting roles are in perfect alignment with Coen and Cooke’s script, with Damon appearing late in the game as a clean-cut Florida Senator whose private life is plastered in with the contents of that valise.

Oh, did I forgot to tell you about the suave guy’s head (Pascal) in the hatbox?

Some secrets are best left for you to discover at the multiplex. Catch a ride with Drive-Away Dolls, which I feel will play better with a solid crowd — gay and straight — at the multiplex. Here’s a lighthearted, giddy gem. Absurd never looked so good.

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).

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