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February 23, 2024 / Universal Pictures Canada

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

Directed By: Ethan Coen

Drive-Away Dolls follows Jamie (Margaret Qualley), an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) who desperately needs to loosen up.

In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they accidentally take off with stolen loot that a group of inept criminals would like to get back.

Written By Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

Drive-Away Dolls boasts a strong trio of performances from Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan and Beanie Feldstein, but the two narrative threads that the movie is constantly changing between prevents the film from finding its rhythm, making it feel far more onerous to watch than it should given its short run time.

Ethan and Joel Coen have been making films together since the 1980s and have cemented themselves as one of the most popular filmmaking duos with hit films such as The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and the remake of True Grit. Joel made his solo directorial debut with 2021’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, and this year marks the solo directorial debut of Ethan. Co-written by him and his wife Tricia Cooke, the film assembles a cast of some of the hottest talent in the industry today as well as Matt Damon, a regular in the Coen Brothers films. On paper, Drive-Away Dolls sounds like it should work with its wacky comedy based premise that nicely weaves in a crime drama subplot, especially with such a talented cast, but sadly the film struggles to find a pacing that can tie all the elements of the story together.

Leading the film is the dynamic duo of Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan who can do no wrong in the lead roles of Jamie and Marian respectively. Qualley amazes with a witty, charming and spitfire performance as Jamie, delivering quickly paced dialogue with an infectious energy. It’s a truly dazzling performance that ensures you cannot take your eyes off Qualley every second she is on screen, solidifying her as a force to be reckoned with within the industry. Opposite her is Viswanathan who continues to add great performances to her resume. After lots of scene stealing supporting performances and a memorable lead performance in 2020’s The Broken Hearts Gallery, Viswanathan gets her most impressive role to date in Marian. It’s a quieter role than normal for Viswanathan, allowing her to blend dramatic moments with some great deadpan humour. As a pairing, Qualley and Viswanathan are outstanding, perfectly playing off each other’s comedic energy to build some unforgettable interactions throughout the film. And while she is in a supporting role, Beanie Feldstein as always delivers some laugh out loud moments as Jamie’s ex-girlfriend Sukie, especially when she is sharing the screen with Qualley and Viswanathan.

Aside from Qualley, Viswanathan, and Feldstein, the cast packs some serious talent but they are not given adequate screen time to develop their characters and performances. Pedro Pascal has a quick yet pivotal scene to the story, but it feels more like a glorified cameo for one of the industry’s most popular actors. Matt Damon is fun as the buffoonish senator entangled in the criminal plotline, but his two scenes are not enough to truly let him or the audience have a grand time laughing at his character. And despite turning in nothing but outstanding performances last year, Colman Domingo is sadly forgettable as The Chief. Carrying the criminal plot line is Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson as The Goons. They have an enjoyable comedic banter, but the deadpan writing for their characters often falls flat and does not let them truly relish in the humorous nature of their characters or circumstances.

What derailed the film for me was the dual narrative structure and the film’s inability to not only balance them, but to seamlessly weave them together. There is no doubt fun to be had with the lesbian road trip comedy plot with Jamie and Marian, which has some truly great comedic moments. Yes, the road trip plays with the usual comedic gags you expect from such a story such as house parties, hook ups and police interactions, but Qualley and Viswanathan shine together and truly sell it. But when the film switches focus to the gangsters hunting down Jamie and Marian who unbeknownst to them have taken their car and some valuable cargo, the film loses its energy. It feels like the film gets stuck shifting gears, losing the fun comedy aspect of the road trip of the comedy plotline but never finds the compelling crime drama that was necessary to propel this storyline. While it maintains the same comedic stylings of the road trip comedy, the performances cannot sustain this secondary plotline, making the film lose all momentum when it switches to this storyline. Not even some brief appearances by Feldstein in this plot line can salvage it, which ultimately resulted in this film feeling far longer than its eighty-four minute run time. It’s not a misfire by co-writers Ethan Coen and Cooke, but it feels like a misstep given the films they have previously collaborated on.

There is no doubt that there are some great laugh out loud moments in Drive-Away Dolls that are guaranteed to connect with audiences and deliver the zany road trip comedy audiences want from this film, but they are few and far between an otherwise muddled film. There is a good film somewhere to be found largely thanks to the wonderful lead performances of Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan and Beanie Feldstein, but the shifting between the two interlocking narratives of Drive-Away Dolls prevents either storyline from being fully realized and underdeveloped supporting characters takes away from the fun experience the film should have been.

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