Driveaway Dolls: On the Road with Real Relationships

Driveaway Dolls tells the story of Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), a young woman who lives an ordered life. Although her love life has been suffering, Marian works her desk job and keeps her life professional. But, when her friend, Jamie (Margaret Qualley) suffers another break-up, the two embark upon an impromptu jaunt to Tallahassee, Florida in an effort to take a breath. Even so, this road trip hits some bumps along the way as the two find themselves in the crosshairs of a group of inept criminals who are determined to stop them in their tracks.

Directed by Ethan Cohen, Driveaway Dolls taps into the energy and humour that made Coen Brothers films so memorable. Firing on all cylinders, there is a bounce and enthusiasm to its script that feels older films such as Hudsucker ProxyO Brother Where Art Thou and Fargo. The Coens have always had a unique way of viewing the world when they work together. 

(L to R) Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian” in director Ethan Coen’s DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

But, on his own, Ethan’s attempt to translate that on screen by himself is somewhat of a mixed bag. 

Fueling the film with wild and broad humour is fun and the script free-wheels with glee. Much of the success of these moments lies at the feet of Qualley and Viswanathan who form a fiery duo onscreen. With Viswanathan stepping into the more repressed character and Qualley bouncing off the walls with energy, the duo is a delightfully odd couple. Backed by their enthusiastic performances, the film keeps moving at solid pace and never overstays its welcome. (In fact, the film is barely 90 minutes, including credits!)

While much of the humour still works, Dolls lacks the emotional gravitas that we’ve seen in other Coens’ work to make the film feel truly special. Written by Coen and Tricia Cooke, the script feels like a modern-day Thelma and Louise yet seems to hit the brakes when it comes to social commentary. Although Thelma felt like a proverbial ‘middle finger’ to the patriarchy of its time, Dolls still seems like its missing the extra heat to bring it to the next level.

(L to R) Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian”, Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” and Beanie Feldstein as “Sukie” in director Ethan Coen’s DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

Having said this, it doesn’t mean that Driveaway Dolls doesn’t have anything to say. Meant to be a film that empowers the LGBTQ generation, there’s a strong sense of sexuality within the film that suggests the joy of self-expression in a world of oppression. Set on the eve of the millennium, this is set in a world that feels frozen in time. But, for these young women, their sexual exploits become a form of freedom from the perceived, cultural norm. (What’s more, it’s worth noting that the film is rated R for a reason as it is often graphic in its sexuality and humor.)

In doing so, the film attempts to draw a line between sexuality and romance. For Jamie, sex is merely a way to enjoy one’s time. To her, emotional connections aren’t necessary in the world of constant hookups. She’s living her life in the moment and that seems to have worked for her thus far. 

(L to R) Geraldine Viswanathan as “Marian” and Margaret Qualley as “Jamie” in director Ethan Coen’s DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

But, for Marian, sex matters. Instead of one-night stands, she wants to find someone that she cares about. Marian believes that keeping it casual is not as important as making a connection. By exploring the tension between worlds, Dolls walks an interesting line. On the one hand, it genuinely values self-expression and the role that sex plays in our lives. But, on the other, it also recognizes that sexuality means more than a quick hit. 

Here, sex matters… but genuine emotional connections and relationships remain the ultimate human experience.

So, yes. Driveaway Dolls is enticing enough for those willing to take the trip. The film is often funny and has something to say along the journey. Even so, despite its brief runtime, this road trip still feels like it runs out of gas.

Drive Away Dolls is available in theatres now.

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