Drive-Away Dolls review – Ethan Coen’s lesbian road trip is a cheerfully nonsensical caper

<span>Played with gusto … Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive-Away Dolls.</span><span>Photograph: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy</span>
Played with gusto … Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive-Away Dolls.Photograph: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy

Here is a saucy, silly, queer road-movie caper from director Ethan Coen and his partner, co-writer and co-producer Tricia Cooke; it’s Coen’s second film without his brother, Joel, following his Jerry Lee Lewis documentary in 2022. Drive-Away Dolls is a flimsy lark wrapped up smartly and economically in 84 minutes with a perfunctory (and cheerfully nonsensical) MacGuffiny premise that makes it look like a Xerox of Coen brothers classics such as No Country For Old Men or Fargo. Lead player Margaret Qualley’s twangy down-home accent is moreover something that could have been re-thought in rehearsal. But it rattles along watchably enough. Geraldine Viswanathan nicely underplays her part and Beanie Feldstein delivers the gags with resounding gusto. There’s a nice sprinkling of A-lister cameos, including Colman Domingo, who I wished had been in the action a bit more.

Jamie (Qualley) has just broken up with her formidable girlfriend Sukie (Feldstein) and needs to get away for a while. So she goes on a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida with her strait-laced friend Marian (Viswanathan), having hired a car on a one-way “driveaway” basis from a rental company run by a stolid fellow played by character stalwart Bill Camp. Jamie is on a mission to get Marian laid. But they’ve accidentally got a certain something in their boot, which some very unsavoury characters want to get their hands on.

The film’s original title was reportedly Drive-Away Dykes, and the change appears to signal a kind of blandification which is not in fact the case; the sex is cordially candid and Marian has a kind of recurring dream memory from childhood of seeing a beautiful naked woman in the next-door garden being nagged by an unlovely, bullying husband. Viswanathan anchors the movie in a kind of quiet emotional seriousness without which it would quickly feel like flavourless chewing gum. A starring feature film role is what she needs now.

• Drive-Away Dolls is in UK and Irish cinemas from 15 March