‘Drive-Away Dolls’ puts twist on ‘raunchy slob’ comedy

Posted 2/28/24

By Kirk Boxleitner


Minor spoiler to start: "Drive-Away Dolls," contrary to its mildly misleading trailer, is not set in the 21st century.

This matters because its period-piece …

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‘Drive-Away Dolls’ puts twist on ‘raunchy slob’ comedy


By Kirk Boxleitner


Minor spoiler to start: "Drive-Away Dolls," contrary to its mildly misleading trailer, is not set in the 21st century.

This matters because its period-piece date of 1999 is probably a golden mean between an absence of smart phones, the mere presence of which would preclude most of this film's plot points, and a relative level of LGBTQ+ acceptance within society, which allows our lesbian protagonists to be downright careless over the course of their rambling misadventures.

It also matters because "Drive-Away Dolls" represents a welcome throwback to the “raunchy slob” comedy subgenre wherein a pair of mismatched pals hit the road and unintentionally get mixed up in high-stakes quasi-criminal capers in which they're way out of their depth.

Unfortunately, far too many slob comedies from the 1970s and '80s are tainted, to varying degrees, by gratuitous dollops of misogyny and homophobia, but "Drive-Away Dolls" avoids this by making lesbians our point-of-view protagonists, and having them take up the traditional archetypes of the masculine buddies of decades past.

Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) is well-read and responsible, but also lonely, socially stunted and dull, so we know that impulsive party animal Jamie (Margaret Qualley), who gets caught screwing around on her aggressively stern partner Sukie (Beanie Feldstein, who's been on a real winning streak of roles lately) will coax her pent-up pal out of her shell and get her laid.

There's shades of the supremely confident Ferris Bueller treating his neurotic best friend Cameron Poe to the much-needed "Day Off" that they share, but any fan of 1980s films will spot similar pairings throughout the era, right down to Robert Rusler and Chris Makepeace's college roommate characters in 1986's "Vamp" starring Grace Jones.

In the wake of Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," mainstream media addressed the audience's desire for more "strong female characters" on a largely shallow surface level, but at the risk of mansplaining equitable representation, what I still don't see enough of onscreen are women characters who are allowed to be goofy dorks and slightly sleazy reprobates, in ways that inspire sympathetic portrayals when it's dudes behaving as such.

I kind of love that Jamie is given narrative permission to be a bit of a dim bulb and a scumbag, because everyone should be afforded the freedom to bask in the decadence of "Beavis and Butt-Head" levels of reprehensible idiocy, however momentarily, regardless of their gender or orientation.

At the same time, Jamie reveals herself to be much like an endearingly big, dumb dog, who causes chaos but mostly means well, which sets the stage for her clumsy attempts to do the right thing for Marian, playing into the well-worn but (in this instance, at least) decently-staged trope of a deeper love lurking where our shortsighted characters least expect to find it.

As graphic as this film gets — and make no mistake, it is sexually explicit — its depictions of romantic affection feel entirely authentic, earnest and earned.

Our central couple, and their grudging tagalong sidekick, are far from the only notable features of "Drive-Away Dolls" which also spotlights Bill Camp's delightfully deadpan formality, Joey Slotnick as a hard-hitting henchman who's nonetheless obsessed with ingratiating himself with the complete strangers he meets on the job, the always-elegant Colman Domingo lending a touch of class to perhaps the most deliberately absurd exposition in this film's proceedings, Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon amusing with what amount to walk-on cameos, and Miley Cyrus appearing in recurring hallucinogenic sequences that arguably go on too long, but remain fun to take in anyway.

It definitely won't be to everyone's tastes, but "Drive-Away Dolls" was well worth watching for me, to the point that I'd even be up for a sequel, which its teaser of an ending leaves open as a possibility.