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April 21, 2024

Drive-Away Dolls is a raunchy, absurdly funny queer romp

By ALICIA GUEVARA | February 29, 2024

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GAGE SKIDMORE / CC BY-SA 2.0

Margaret Qualley plays Jamie in Drive-Away Dolls, who goes on a road trip with her love interest Marian, played by Geraldine Viswanathan.

I’ve only done improvisation once in my life. It was not voluntary. One of my English classes in high school required it to help us “loosen up” and get into character before we performed scenes from the Shakespeare play we were reading. I have never had a more humbling experience in my life, but I learned the basic mantra of improv: “Yes, and...”

It was explained to me like this: If someone says something unexpected or takes the scene in a different direction, you roll with it. You accept it, and you add to it. Yes, your new idea is part of this scene. And, I’ll now add my new idea to the scene, too. 

It’s clear that the writers of Drive-Away Dolls, a film released in theaters on Feb. 23, wholeheartedly embraced this core tenet. As I was watching, I imagined the writers’ room as an improvisation scene: “Let’s hire Pedro Pascal! Yes, and let’s kill off his character in the first five minutes! Yes, and let’s cut his head off and stuff it into a hat box! Yes, and let’s add dry ice because ‘science’!” and so on.

The film’s premise is already a bit wild. Two friends, Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), who also happen to be lesbians (a major plot point), set off on a road trip to Tallahassee, Fla. to visit Marian’s aunt. To get there, they unknowingly take a car containing a mysterious briefcase intended for three bumbling criminals who desperately want it back — shenanigans ensue.

Watching the first half of this movie, I was so disoriented. The film is very fast-paced; even the dialogue is snappy and quick. Seemingly random psychedelic shots interspace the film, complete with trippy music, giant spinning pizzas and a random Miley Cyrus cameo. I found myself struggling to assemble all of the information that was being thrown at me into a coherent story: Who are these people? Where are these people? What are these people? And, just generally, why?

But at some point, I found myself giving in to the chaos. The “why” was no longer as important as just rolling with the next absurd scene and punchline. And, most interestingly, I could feel the rest of the audience at the theater give in along with me. What started with nervous titters and chuckles ended with belly laughs and cackles. We collectively confronted every absurd new detail with “yes, and...” This paid off as the film progressed and the plot became clearer.

Admittedly, though, some of our nervousness likely stemmed from how explicit it was. Characters are stabbed in the neck, beaten up and shot. There are many shots of female nudity, and there are many, many sex scenes, all of which are between two women. It’s refreshing since lesbian sex scenes are so rare, but there are so many that it feels like the film is trying to single-handedly make up for the disparity. After a while, they start to lose their punch and seem almost gratuitous rather than empowering.

I really liked the romance between Jamie and Marian. At first, Jamie is freer with her sexuality, while Marian is more conservative. As they spend more time together, Jamie overcomes her fear of commitment and Marian becomes more comfortable with embracing her sexual desires. Both characters change, develop and grow with each other throughout the film.

I also really enjoyed the dynamic between the criminals tailing Jamie and Marian. At times their relationship seemed reminiscent of the one between Pinky and the Brain, and other times more like the one between the Wet Bandits in Home Alone. It was hilarious and random, and I found myself rooting for them even though they were obviously violent thugs.

However, these two subplots were often overshadowed by general craziness. There were too many plotlines and characters stuffed into one movie, and I wanted more time with each of them. Ultimately, I think deciding to not zoom in or focus on any storyline made potentially rich, complex characters seem shallow and cartoonish.

Drive-Away Dolls is not a movie I would recommend watching with your parents or relatives unless you’re looking to create some awkward moments, but I would recommend giving it a try. It made me uncomfortable and made me laugh in equal measure, which is a rare find. If you have a strong stomach, it’s unique, fun and worth a watch. 


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