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Review: ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is a Hilariously Offbeat and Mystery-Themed Twist on ‘Thelma & Louise’

February 21, 2024Ben MK

When it comes to female road trip movies, Thelma & Louise set the bar. But fast forward some three decades, and surprisingly few films have emerged to challenge it for that specific crown. Whether it's the chemistry between Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon's characters or that iconic final scene, Ridley Scott's 1991 drama has earned its place in the pantheon of timeless Hollywood classics. And with Drive-Away Dolls, director Ethan Coen is delivering a Thelma & Louise for a new generation, in this quirky comedy about best friends who become entangled in a bizarre conspiracy.

The year is 1999, and with Y2K just around the corner, conservative Philadelphia office worker Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and her free-spirited friend, Jamie (Margaret Qualley) are in desperate need of a change of scenery. Deciding to pack their respective bags and head for Marian's aunt's home in Tallahassee, Florida, the pair make their way to their local drive-away, where its exceedingly dry owner, Curlie (Bill Camp), informs them that there just happens to be one car available for their trip. What they don’t expect, however, is to be mistaken for the individuals a shadowy man known as the Chief (Colman Domingo) has tasked with transporting the car — and the mysterious cargo hidden in its trunk — to its final destination. And when the mix-up is discovered, Marian and Jamie find themselves in a sticky predicament that they must improvise their way out of.

It's a hilarious, cross-country chase that will not only see Marian and Jamie — who also happen to both be lesbians — pursued across several state lines by a couple of the Chief's bickering goons (C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick), but falling surprisingly hard for each other along the way. However, will they and their burgeoning romance survive once the Chief and his bumbling henchmen inevitably catch up to them? And what on earth could their vehicle's super-secret cargo — a briefcase and a hat bag — have to do with an international collector of rare antiquities named Santos (Pedro Pascal), who's suddenly and suspiciously gone missing, as well as an ambitious, Bible-thumping Republican senator by the name of Gary Channel (Matt Damon)?

Throw in Beanie Feldstein as Jamie's hot-tempered ex, a Philadelphia police sergeant who still holds a grudge against her, and there’s no doubt Drive-Away Dolls has an ensemble cast to die for. What makes the result as hilarious and as thoroughly watchable as it is, however, is the odd-couple pairing of Qualley and Viswanathan, both of whom do a memorable job channeling their inner Davis and Sarandon, while also bringing a refreshing, modern-day twist to their roles, despite the movie being set less than a decade after Thelma & Louise. Together, this on-screen duo help give laugh-out-loud new meaning to Brad Pitt's oft-quoted line from Seven, "What's in the box?" And while audiences are apt to have their own theories about what the contents might be, suffice to say the answer is so outlandish that there's no way it won't take viewers completely by surprise.

It all adds up to one of the most original comedies in recent memory. And although Drive-Away Dolls is all but guaranteed to slip under moviegoers' radar due to the similarly timed release of competing blockbuster fare, it's also a fair bet that the film will gain a bigger, cult following in the years to come. Either way, those with a penchant for hidden gems would be wise not to sleep on this one. After all, it's not often that a movie comes along that's capable of driving away with viewers hearts, as well as their funny bones.

Drive-Away Dolls releases February 23rd, 2024 from Focus Features. The film has an MPAA rating of R for crude sexual content, full nudity, language and some violent content. Its runtime is 1 hr. 24 min.

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