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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘Drive-Away Dolls’: Blending crime, comedy, and refreshing queer representation


This article contains spoilers.

“Drive-Away Dolls,” filmmaker Ethan Coen’s first movie made without his brother, Joel, is currently in theaters. It was released in the U.S. on Feb. 23. The film is fun, fast, and charged, with a star-studded cast and a suspenseful plot. But despite it being watchable and quick, it still left a lot to be desired.

The film surrounds Jamie (Margaret Qualley), a young woman who got kicked out of her girlfriend Sukie’s apartment in Philadelphia after cheating. Lost and on her own, she decides to accompany her friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) on a trip to Tallahassee, Florida.

They go to a driveaway service to rent a car for the trip, but the car contains materials that cause them to cross over with some wacky criminals—including a U.S. senator (Matt Damon).

Qualley’s star power and chemistry with Viswanathan fueled this film. Qualley has performed major roles in her career so far, such as the co-lead in Zachary Wigon’s “Sanctuary” (2022) and playing character in wide-scale hits like “Poor Things” (2023) and “The Nice Guys” (2016). “Drive-Away Dolls” is the biggest film she has gotten to star in—a landmark in her career.

Viswanathan put on a stellar performance as Marian. This film was also the biggest production that she has ever starred in. Her career has also been building in recent years, beginning in 2014 but kicking off in 2018 with her role in Kay Cannon’s “Blockers.” This film serves as a turning point for her as well. The chemistry between her and Qualley proves that the film had cast true talent.

As a sapphic person myself, one of the highlights of the film was the queer representation. It was refreshing to see a movie screened in prominent theaters so candidly depict the sapphic experience. The movie showed lesbians both hooking up and having casual sex as well as having meaningful yet fleeting relationships, which challenges the overbearing lesbian stereotype that people move fast and only have serious, long-term relationships.

In the end, Jamie and Marian do plan to marry. However, this contrasted with the intense presence of hookup culture in the movie, showcasing the variety and nuance of the sapphic experience.

On March 3, the AMC Boston Common 19 audience responded positively to the representation. The constant laughter and cheer at the depictions of queer dynamics showed how this movie might resonate with people.

The other main highlight of the movie was its quirky memorability. The editing, for example, was notable—the transitions were considered by numerous Letterboxd users as “iMovie-type transitions,” like the screen flipping around.


This may feel laughable and unprofessional to some, but it helped cement the film’s uniqueness. The film was also rife with off-putting humor that erupted laughter within the audience. The risque motif of dildos also made it silly and distinct.

Despite its quirkiness making the film fun and noteworthy, it is an acquired taste, making it difficult to take seriously. The film felt marginally trashy due to the vulgar humor, quick-movingness, and lack of complex plotlines. Luckily, it felt self-aware enough of these genre conventions that it is still a fun watch.

The film had a lot of references to the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” which Coen co-directed with his brother. For example, one of the incriminating objects in the car Jamie and Marian rented is a silver briefcase that looks exactly like the one so imperative to the plot in “The Big Lebowski.” 

There is also a scene where the antagonists trying to find the woman break into Jamie’s ex’s apartment, which felt so similar to the break-in in the ‘90s movie that it couldn’t have been unintentional. The psychedelic animated scenes and the effortless yet niche blend of crime and comedy also felt very deliberately inspired.

This notable inspiration is not much of a bad or good thing; however, “Driveaway Dolls” inherently lacks the complexity and iconicness of “The Big Lebowski,” so the comparisons might be controversial to some.

“The Big Lebowski” involves a complicated layering of storylines and multidimensional thematic elements that “Driveaway Dolls” does not attempt to achieve. Thus, the references felt more like fun easter eggs for Coen brothers fans than an actual attempt at something on the level of the monumental ‘90s film.

Although directed solely by Coen, the film was co-written, edited, and co-produced by his spouse, Tricia Cooke. Cooke’s perspective in this movie is imperative since she identifies as a lesbian and queer woman.

In an interview with MovieMaker magazine, she described their marriage as non-traditional, in which they see other partners but love each other. 

“We wrote ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ together many, many years ago as a way for us to spend time together,” Cooke said.

Cooke said she had been wanting to make queer films, and this movie was her chance to. She said the film directly draws on her experiences as a lesbian in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s an essential  film to her, even if she said it’s “a little trashy.” This adds to the virtuous self-awareness of the film.

Though the film may not align with the somber artsiness typically associated with the Coen brothers, this film is entertaining and fast. As an audience member who is queer and fem-aligned, I sincerely enjoyed the gay representation. It felt very authentic, and it makes sense that Cooke based that aspect of the story on her life.

Queer relationships are impossible to confine into any specific way of living, and this film reflects that. The gay women in this film offer several different perspectives, wants, and needs. The main characters all have different connections to being queer and Coen and Cooke did a successful job in making it truly feel like the ‘90s. Based on the hooting, hollering, and joyful laughter from the rest of the audience in the theater that day, that might be a takeaway others share.

The only times I heard murmurs of unhappiness were when one of the brand-new Nicole Kidman AMC introductions screened before the film. Sometimes, people get nostalgic—for “The Big Lebowski,” queer culture pre-internet, or simply the way Kidman used to say, “We come to this place for magic.”

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About the Contributor
Sasha Zirin, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Sasha Zirin is a journalism major and Assistant Living Arts Editor with a passion for art criticism. They love to cover film and take photos. They started on the Beacon as a correspondent in fall 2022 and have been around since. They’ve been on the editorial team for EM Magazine since fall 2022 as well. Outside of writing and taking photos, you’ll often find them drawing/painting, listening to music, and watching a lot of movies.

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