Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ veers into the wrong lane

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

This is a rare miss from legendary director Ethan Coen, who takes eccentricity and silliness a bit too far for the film to be palatable to most. “Drive-Away Dolls” has some of the quirky humor audiences have come to love from a Coen movie but strays too far into the surreal to sustain the enjoyment of the story. Relying heavily on the performances of the two lead actresses, one rises to the challenge, while the other falters.

The year is 1999, and two good friends are at a point in their lives where they need a change. Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a timid, socially closed off young lady looking to loosen up a bit and be more adventurous. Jamie (Margaret Qualley) is quite the opposite, an extroverted, sexually free spirit who just broke up with her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein). Together they decide to take an introspective road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee to find themselves and make positive changes in their lives.

When they wind up in a car not meant for them that contains unusual luggage, the friends receive some life changes, just not the ones they were expecting. Unwittingly chased by a criminal who simply named The Chief (Colman Domingo) and his Goons (Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson), the young women don’t realize they are out of their depth and could be in mortal danger. Self-discovery is not the only thing on the agenda as they make their way south, getting into a series of hijinks along the way.

Writer/director Ethan Coen is a four-time Oscar winner (“Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men”) known for his creativity and warped sense of humor. While he’s had plenty of success over his illustrious career, he’s no stranger to a rare failure like “Hail, Caesar!”. “Drive-Away Dolls” is a project in which Coen focuses more on style than on content, resulting in a disjointed, over-the-top spoof that becomes too silly at times, undermining key moments in the story. He tries incorporating 1960ish psychedelic dream sequences throughout the film as some artistic symbolism, but ends up being mostly a strange, confusing inclusion that lacks any objective until the end. Even the cinematography is odd and awkward, leaving viewers confused and annoyed.

Coen does of course supply some witty dialogue in the screenplay to generate some amusing chuckles here and there. He should also be commended for attempting to bring something new and different to the screen, even if it’s a misfire. His innovation doesn’t seem to carry over to the ending, however, as the climax ties everything up a bit too neatly while also forgetting several subplots along the way. This is the first film Ethan directed without the assistance of his older brother Joel.

One of the two leads is portrayed by Geraldine Viswanathan, who steps up with her biggest and best performance to date. Best known for her supporting role in “Blockers,” she provides that understated, uptight yet steady and smart portrayal of her character. When she’s not using vocabulary to toy with other characters, she adorns hilarious facial expressions of annoyance to convey her unimpressed feelings. Geraldine is the bright spot of an otherwise disappointing film.

Margaret Qualley plays the other lead and provides some level of entertainment with a heavy dialogue driven performance, but the role proved to be too much for the young actress. She tries too hard as the promiscuous extrovert, being overly aggressive and wordy with a Texas accent instead of embracing the character as her own, leading to an unnatural, ingenuine performance that lacks connectivity.

The rest of the supporting cast is decent enough, highlighted by Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”), who provided some funny moments throughout the production. There were even some fun cameo appearances from Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon, both of which have comical inclusions to bookend the film.

As a comparison, this movie is a cross between “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag” and “Dumb and Dumber,” except less entertaining. “Drive-Away Dolls” is a weird movie that’s almost as immature in its filmmaking style as its content that will alienate most audiences even with a short runtime. Despite a surprisingly electric performance from Geraldine Viswanathan, this is a rare swing and a miss from Ethan Coen. Perhaps, he should have his brother back in the fold for his next project.

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February 2024