Is Drive-Away Dolls a Coen Brothers Film?


Drive-Away Dolls is the latest film from director Ethan Coen of the Coen Brothers fame. The movie stars Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan as Jamie and Marian respectively, two lesbian friends who go on a road trip to Flordia after they have found themselves at crossroads in their life. Due to a mistake at a car company they end up in possession of a vehicle with briefcase filled with secret contents that find themselves being pursued by a group of mobsters. Coen wrote the script with his wife, Tricia Cooke.



Despite the name Ethan Coen, his brother Joel Coen is not involved with the movie. Drive-Away Dolls might look like other Coen Brothers movies like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading but it is notably not a Coen Brother’s movie. Why does the newly released film tell us about the brothers work together and how they work apart?



Why Drive-Away Dolls Is Not a “Coen Brothers” Movie

Drive-Away Dolls

Drive-Away Dolls

3/5

Release Date
February 23, 2024

Runtime
1hr 24min

Tagline
A story of two ladies going south.

Despite Ethan Coen being one half of the Coen Brothers, the film is not a Coen Brothers collaboration. The last film the brothers worked on together was 2018’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Since then the brothers have worked on their own projects, but a recent report suggest they will collaborate again on an upcoming horror film. It is unclear exactly why the duo stopped directing together, it has allowed for some interesting examinations of their filmmaking styles and what defines each director.

Related: A Serious Man: The Most Underrated Coen Brothers Movie, Explained


While both of their solo films highlight a criminal element, the tones are drastically different. Ethan Coen went for a more comedic take on an original story idea, while Ethan wanted to put a new spin on a classic play. Drive-Away Dolls is an original story like a lot of the Coen Brothers classics (Raising Arizona, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man), while Joel Coen adapted The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakspeare, similar to adapting Charles Portis’s True Grit, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Homer’s The Odyess for O Brother, Where Are Thou.

Ethan Coen Finds a New Co-Director in Tricia Cooke

While Ethan Coen is credited as the sole director of Drive-Away Dolls, screenwriter Tricia Cooke is very much the co-director of the film. This is very similar to how, until 2003, Joel Coen received the sole directing credit on all of the Coen Brothers’ films, and Ethan was a producer due to guild rules by the Directors Guild of America as they were not an established directing duo at the start of their careers and that is a requirement to share the directing credit. Starting in 2004, they were able to receive dual credit.


Cooke identifies as lesbian and queer. While she is married to Ethan Coen and the duo has children, they have also developed a modern relationship in that both have other partners while still being married. Drive-Away Dolls draws heavily on Cooke’s own experiences in lesbian bars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so it makes sense how and why she would have a certain level of creative control on the project even if she is not credited as a director, it is as much her movie as all of the previous Coen Brother films were Ethan’s when Joel was the only one credited.

Before Cooke and Coen married, she had worked with them as a co-editor on seven of their films: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou, and The Man Who Wasn’t There. In 2003 with the release of Intollerable Cruelty, she stepped away from editing to spend time with her kids while the brothers edited under the psyednom Roderick Jaynes. Cooke and Coen had been trying to develop Drive-Away Dolls since the 2000s with Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart) set to direct, but they never were able to get a big enough budget for the film as many studios were skeptical about putting more than a microbudget or a couple million into an LGBTQ+ comedy.


Drive-Away Dolls has setups similar to those of other Coen Brothers movies. The fact that the duo are being chased by hitman after they get a top secret brief case is very similar to No Country for Old Men. Yet instead of being a dark neo-Western that is a suspenful drama, this film is a light hearted lesbian comedy with raunchy sets ups and has the more absurd visuals and characters of movies like The Big Lebowski. Even the films ultimate reveal of what is in the briefcase plays more like the punchline of Burn After Reading being nothing is learned.

Ethan Coen has an interest in the crime drama stories, but ones with colorful cast of comedic characters which based off his brother’s solo film, might explain an interesting dynamic in how the directors work together.

Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth Might Reveal The Two Brother’s Style


Fans of the Coen Brothers tend to notice how their films tend to trade off tonally between drama and comedy. They tend to trade-off in terms of what they tackle. No Country for Old Men was then followed by the comedic Burn After Reading. After the comedic A Serious Man, they decided to tackle the grounded Western, True Grit. Inside Llweyn Davis and Hail Caesar! are both films that explore the world of entertainment, with the former being a cold fall/winter vibes drama of the East Coast with the latter a bright absurd comedy set in the warm glow of Hollywood.

After the brothers split up to do their own project, it is fitting they each tackled one side of the style they had found for themselves. Ethan Coen made the wacky comedy crime film, while Joel Coen made The Tragedy of Macbeth. The black and white adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare is a far cry from movies like Fargo, Barton Fink or The Hudsucker Proxy. The only time the Coen’s had done black and white was in The Man Who Wasn’t There, which is the film that feels the most tonally in common with The Tragedy of Macbeth.


The Tragedy of Macbeth has the dark mature character drama like Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, and No Country for Old Men. It also features some incredible high-concept spectacle design that is similar to the ambitious scale of O Brother, Where Art Thou. While the biggest difference between Drive-Away Dolls and The Tragedy of Macbeth might appear to be between comedy and drama that is found amongst their films, that is only a surface detail. The biggest is the characters.

Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls has flawed characters that sometimes can do despicable things, from cheating to even murder, but there does appear to be a likability to them that not only do you root for them but you emphasize with them. This is similar to how characters in The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona are, ones where the audiences wants to see them get some semblance of a happy ending. Meanwhile The Tragedy of Macbeth is a story filled with despicable characters who will all meet a tragic end by their own doing, as seen in films like Fargo, No Country for Old Men and Miller’s Crossing.


Related: The Coen Brothers: How the Directors Dissect American Culture

Ethan Coen film Drive-Away Dolls is a continuation of the Coen Brothers fun lighthearted silly absurdist comedies with colorful characters caught in incredible situations. Meanwhile Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is for fans who love the more introspective somber dramas with criminals who are conspiring against one another in a bleak world where the only outcome is, as the title fittingly says, tragedy.

Drive-Away Dolls sadly has been a box office disappointment. This can be chalked up to a poor marketing campaign and the fact that audiences were saving up their money to see Dune: Part Two and saw this comedy as less worthy of rushing out to see on the big screen. Despite a low opening weekend and a polarizing CinemaScore, there is a strong chance that Drive-Away Dolls will gain a cult following like some of Ethan’s collaborations with his brother Joel, like The Big Lebowski and Blood Simple. If the Coen Brothers filmography has proven anything, it is that box office is not always the end of the story.


Drive-Away Dolls is currently playing in theaters.

Check out our interview with Geraldine Viswanathan and Beanie Feldstein regarding Drive-Away Dolls.



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