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Drive-Away Dolls, the latest venture by filmmaker Ethan Coen and partner Tricia Cooke, comes by its R rating honestly. The lesbian comedy is not a kids or family movie by any means, and has a lot of sex. But it is funny, and while it’s definitely a road trip movie, it crosses genres into the rom-com lane matter-of-factly and ends up raunchily endearing. (I’m suddenly rethinking if American Pie is a rom-com.)

Drive-Away Dolls: the story

The basic idea of the movie is that Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) are going out of town to escape Jamie’s bad breakup with Sukie (Beanie Feldstein). In the years before Uber and Lyft, you had to physically go to places to find rides. It’s not dissimilar to the car slug lines some people are familiar with. There’s some criminal setup beforehand involving Pedro PascalColman Domingo, and mistaken identities that result in Jamie and Marian getting a car with a package that was decidedly not meant for them. 

And so the two women take a ride from Philadelphia to Tallahassee, with love, no cheesesteaks, but lots of adventurous detours, and comically inept criminals who might as well be NPCs in Skyrim asking if you want a sweet roll. There’s side questing and self-discovery to the max with sex toys and more.

As an aside, my Philadelphia sensibilities were highly offended by the fact that Pittsburgh was used as a stand-in most effectively for the city of brotherly love. But that’s an interstate rivalry driven by Yinzer’s love of French fries on sandwiches. But I digress, and this is supposedly a movie review rather than a list of 1000 things that Philadelphians have problems with.

Drive-Away Dolls is not a delicate heartstring tugging film like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but is a raucous, raunchy, queer film that, in its own way, differs from what is typical onscreen with cinema today. There’s a powerful undercurrent that makes you think the main characters probably had zines back in the day. Given that the movie is technically a period film from 1999, it fits.

Drive-Away Dolls
Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive-Away Dolls (Focus Features)

Ultimately, Drive-Away Dolls can be summed up as making sure you check your rented car before you ride across the country and state lines to Tallahassee. And, oh, maybe stay away from Dodge Arieses. (Clearly, Marian and Jamie did not grow up with Instagram or TikTok warnings about things you should know about car rentals.)

This has the unapologetic weirdness of some of the other Coen Brothers works, even though it’s just a singular jaunt from the wind of Ethan Coen and his partner Cooke. Just like O Brother, Where Art Thou and the Brad Pitt vehicle Burn After Reading, this movie exists in its own universe. While the rules of space-time seem to apply, the rest of the geopolitical world is painted in broader strokes and tropes. 

A star turn for Geraldine Viswanathan and a surprise cameo

Geraldine Viswanathan is the star of this movie. If you’re a comic book fan and weren’t excited about her upcoming appearance as an “undisclosed role” (ahem, Marvel snipers) in Thunderbolts, this will change after Drive-Away Dolls. Viswanathan is taking over for the award-winning Ayo Edebiri. After watching this, you’ll likely come away from this film seeing exactly the natural charisma that the Marvel execs (thank you, Saint Sarah Haley Finn) saw when they cast her in Thunderbolts. 

There is also a famous actor appearing in the film that we won’t spoil in the review. It’s not the frequent Coen contributor you’re thinking of, but still packs some old-school A-list goodness into Drive-Away Dolls. It works in the context of the movie, and it is also totally fun (and makes sense) when you consider the history of the filmmakers. The famous cameo is perhaps part of a broader social commentary that the film never gets off the ground, despite literal suitcases full of effort.

Drive-Away Dolls is an original take on the road trip movie

Inexplicably, the goal of this movie is Tallahassee. The film also pokes at this destination, as it is a running joke. I’m still scratching my head on that one. Perhaps the name was just funny, or maybe someone else was a deep Once Upon a Time fan and wanted to pay homage to the criminal misdeeds of Emma Swan. 

This movie is unlikely to win awards and perhaps not even worth a second viewing, but it offers an original take on what was once a B movie staple: the road trip. If the pendulum is swinging back from big blockbuster IPs (unlikely), we’re here for theatrical releases of movies that, for a while, went straight to streaming. Give us the movie theater filler to laugh about with our friends, be it Drive-Away Dolls, which is cut from the same cloth as Euro Trip (though less bombastic) and less Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (or Tallahassee if you will).

This film doesn’t take itself seriously (like this review), and if you, as the audience, let go and enjoy the ride (pun intended), you’ll have a weird and probably good time, too. 

Drive-Away Dolls from Focus Features is now in theaters . Do you plan to see this movie? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. 

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews:

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