Drive-Away Dolls is the first movie directed soley by Ethan Coen (sans his brother), and the first thing that is apparent is the tonal familiarity with previous Coen Brother films, specificaly like Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar!

While one of the aforementioned films was riveting and the other was… less so, Drive-Away Dolls finds a comfortable middle ground as a B- comedy romp exploring characters operating from the most basic levels of motivation… one might expect to see Breaking Bad‘s Skinny Pete or Badger pop onto the screen at any moment.

Drive-Away Dolls, penned by Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke, sees Margaret Qualley portray Jamie, a pleasure-seeking, openly gay woman in 1999 who unabashedly seeks out her own pleasures. Jamie’s friend, Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), is a more composed, rule abiding individual who hasn’t had a lover in some time.

Together, these gal pals decide to drive to Tallahassee, Florida using a drive-away service, where they will be paid to drive one way, transporting a used car. It just so happens that these women have mistakenly been given the wrong car, a vehicle intended for a group of criminals transporting contraband that they don’t want exposed.

Jamie is determined to get laid and help Marian in the same pursuit while Flint and Arliss ( played by C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick respectively) A.K.A. the bad guys are on the trail get the the contraband back before the girls discover the valuable contents inside the trunk.

The time period of 1999 allows for fun throw backs for the above 30 year olds in the audience, as well as remove cell phone from the pesky narrative equation. The contents of the trunk is a mystery suitcase once stolen by the ever-present Pedro Pascal, and his men are hoping to regain the suitcase so they won’t face the wrath of Pascal’s over the top character.

Marian and Jamie bicker on the road just as the henchmen do, something the Coen Brothers have executed to great effect throughout their careers. Qualley takes a big swing with the southern accent and her bravado, and it mostly works on screen.

Viswanathan is much more measured in her performance, and guides it to its climax brilliantly. The script makes space for slightly larger than cameo performances by Matt Damon and Colman Domingo, the latter of which is having a fantastic run thanks to Rustin and The Color Purple.

Ultimately, and without any third act spoilers, the film feels lacking of any true inspiration or artistry, aspiring only to be fun and engaging for its runtime of one hour and twenty-four minutes… and sometimes, that’s good enough.

Letter Grade: B-

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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