Drive-Away Dolls is director Ethan Coen’s thesis on why movies don’t need to be particularly intelligent to be extremely enjoyable — they just need a plot reliant on Matt Damon’s penis.

After Joel Coen’s 2021 solo directorial debut with the melodramatic The Tragedy of Macbeth, cinephiles have waited with bated breath to see what artistic direction the younger Coen brother would take. 

Drive-Away Dolls has the bones of an expected Coen brothers film, like the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. But the lesbian bar backdrop delivers a different tone. 

The film is partially based on co-writer, co-producer and Coen’s wife of over 30 years Tricia Cooke’s experiences in lesbian bars. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Cooke said the “queer world” expressed in Drive-Away Dolls comes from her own experiences, while Coen created the bumbling male characters. This is apparent in the matter-of-factness of the characters’ sexualities and self-expression.

Drive-Away Dolls, begins in 1999 Philadelphia and follows two lesbian friends embarking on a road trip in search of enlightenment. Margaret Qualley plays Jamie, whose unabashed and free-thinking personality counters that of Marian, played by Geraldine Viswanathan. 

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After Jamie’s girlfriend Sukie, played by Beanie Feldstein,  dumps her over Jamie’s infidelity, the uptight and prissy Marian convinces Jamie to join her on a road trip to Tallahassee to visit her aunt. They decide to rent a car for the trip, and mistakenly receive one meant for a slew of criminals. 

This kicks off a series of shenanigans that lead to basement parties, missing dildos and various Margaret Qualley sex scenes. The main duo is chased down by criminals, played by Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson, whose ringleader is played by Colman Domingo. The criminals, credited collectively as “The Goons”, parallel the “Dolls” in their dynamics as well as sexual tension, heightening the hilarity of the film. 

The tacky sliding edits between scenes felt like a sucker punch to the gut when watching. Despite the sudden shift in scenery, these transitions’ abruptness worked surprisingly well to induce confused laughter from the audience. 

Perhaps the weirdest parts of the film were the randomly interspersed psychedelic sequences featuring love motifs that begged the question: What the hell is Miley Cyrus doing here? 

Star-power cameos run rampant throughout the film, but all hold significance to the plot. Aside from Cyrus’ Tiffany Plastercaster, Pedro Pascal has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as The Collector in the first few minutes of the film

Matt Damon’s role as the fictional Sen. Gary Channel exceeds the other two, as it becomes apparent the film is about recovering — spoiler alert — a dildo cast of his character’s penis.

The endless sex jokes and sexual references lighten the tone considerably. Murder, theft and the crushing weight of a breakup should not be this funny, but they are in Drive-Away Dolls

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With a vivid neon backdrop of lesbian bars along the east coast, this film is visually enticing too, and the chemistry between Qualley and Viswanathan is palpable and hilarious.

This raunchiness does tend to bar the story from some of the emotional depth it could use. While Jamie’s actions have a bolder effect on the film — such as her choice to vandalize their driveaway car with the phrase “Love is a sleigh ride to hell” — we view the story through Marian.

Initially very straight-laced and incapable of letting loose or having fun, Viswanathan portrays Marian dutifully, expertly expressing the clearly repressed feelings her character has for Qualley’s character. As the story progresses, Marian releases her tension and makes bolder decisions that affect the plot. If Drive-Away Dolls were to rely solely on plot for its praise, the whole film could be written off as extremely typical in archetype. But the film shines best in its performances, setting and raunchy and snappy dialogue.