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Drive-Away Dolls review: a wild Sapphic joyride from the Coen Brothers

 (Wilson Webb / Working Title / Fo)
(Wilson Webb / Working Title / Fo)

Is Drive-Away Dolls the new, long-anticipated Coen Brothers humdinger? Well technically there’s only one Coen Brother involved so no. But is it the lesbian road movie we’ve all been screaming out for? Quite possibly.

Although this bears many goofed-out hallmarks from the brothers’ classics (spot the numerous tropes), it’s Ethan Coen’s first feature without brother Joel. And there’s an ever-so-discernible Joel-shaped hole, as if regular collaborator John Goodman had thundered a Big Lebowski bowling ball through the pair’s meticulous mega-brain and knocked a few pins loose.

What is clear from the outset – as the camera lunges full Coen close-up into the deliriously lusty face of Margaret Qualley’s Jamie, deep between the thighs of a random hook-up – is that we’re in for a wild Sapphic joyride.

Set in the let’s-go-crazy year of 1999, much of the film’s intimate knowledge comes from Coen’s wife and co-writer Tricia Cooke (herself queer) and her experiences in Nineties lesbian bars.

The set-up is familiar: the good guys accidentally drive off with the baddies’ vehicle and a suitcase full of loot. On this occasion, Jamie joins her best friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) on a trip to Tallahassee after splitting from cop girlfriend Sukie.

The pair roar off on a roadtrip, but quickly realise there’s a mysterious briefcase filled with dildos in the trunk. The wibbly-wobbly contraband quickly makes things very complicated.

Beanie Feldstein’s Sukie is the funniest thing here, meting out a fistful of furious cartoon violence to allcomers. And Bill Camp’s rental manager Curlie (fact: there is always a guy behind a desk in a Coen Brothers film) is a lugubrious joy, taking the brunt of the crooks’ ire about their missing motor. Oh, and yes, these criminals are obviously moronically inept.

So off the women roll across dusty, neon-soaked Americana, with the men in pursuit. Jamie (touting an accent so swampy it’s like the southern fried chicken itself was talking) is hellbent on getting her rocks off with any female stranger in any roadside motel. Marian is the sensible one she’s trying to co-opt into her libidinous free-for-all.

Matt Damon appears briefly to tie up the mystery of the stolen sex toys, Miley Cyrus shimmies momentarily in unconvincing psychedelic interludes, but Pedro Pascal’s literal bit part (we daren’t spoil it) is vintage Coen brilliance.

At 84 minutes, it’s quite long enough, and like last year’s Bottoms, it put lesbians front and centre in a seriously silly caper. However, fans of the Coens could be left wishing: o brother Joel, where art thou?

84 mins, cert 15

In cinemas