Now Streaming | Drive-Away Dolls/Lisa Frankenstein | 2024

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS.

On paper, a film about two lesbians on the lam after being caught up in a clone-a-willy heist should be right up my alley, especially if said film is directed by one of the Coen Bros. Unfortunately, Drive-Away Dolls, the first solo directorial effort by Ethan Coen, is something of a bust. 

There are elements of stronger films here - The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading among them. But Drive-Away Dolls is so tonally messy that it's nigh-on impossible to settle into its rhythms. Star Margaret Qualley, normally a magnetic screen presence, is surprisingly bad here. Her drawling Texas accent sounds more like Sandy Cheeks from "Spongebob Squarepants" than an actual Texan, and is so distractingly over-the-top that in nearly singlehandedly derails the film. This could have worked if the rest of the film had matched her parodic energy, but instead it seems to aim for the dry sense of humor we've come to expect from the Coens. Qualley is in another movie altogether, and it's surprising that Coen didn't pull it back, or bring the rest of the film up to meet her. The result is something that feels deeply confused and often adrift, a Thelma & Louise parody in which the queer subtext has been made text, but with nothing else to really add.

It's a shame because Joel Coen's first solo effort, The Tragedy of Macbeth, was terrific, and while Drive-Away Dolls has a few recognizably Coen-esque ideas, they feel so half-hearted that it makes us long for the days of that old Coen brothers magic. 

Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa Swallows and Cole Sprouse as The Creature in LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a Focus Features release.

On the flip side, I was a certified Juno hater circa 2007, and while time has somewhat dulled the visceral aversion I had to its specific brand of comedy back then, it's still very much just not my cup of tea.  So I was surprised to find myself completely charmed by Lisa Frankenstein, the latest film written by Juno Oscar-winner, Diablo Cody.

Cody is in that rarefied company of screenwriters whose name alone can generate interest in a film. Her words carry a specific cadence that is unmistakable, often transcending whatever her directors are bringing to the table. There's something charmingly low-rent about what director Zelda Williams is doing here, like a Disney Channel original movie with an actual pedigree - but that's the whole point of the Lisa Frank-ification of the film's aesthetic. It's a film perfectly in tune with its period, the colors and trappings of 1989 leap off the screen, right down to the scalloped lamps and wavy lampshades. Its tale of a disaffected young goth girl (Kathryn Newton) who finds herself in love with the reanimated corpse of a Victorian boy (Cole Sprouse) whose grave she tends on her daily sojourns to an abandoned local cemetery is a disarmingly endearing one, even as it delves into violence when the creature begins to exact vengeance on those who have wronged her. It's a sly and subversive candy-colored fantasy that plays like the fevered romantic ramblings of a disaffected teenager's diary, and I loved every minute of it.


DRIVE AWAY DOLLS | Directed by Ethan Coen | Stars Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon | Rated R for crude sexual content, full nudity, language and some violent content.

LISA FRANKENSTEIN | Directed by Zelda Williams | Stars Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, Carla Gugino | Rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, sexual material, language, sexual assault, teen drinking and drug content.

Drive-Away Dolls and Lisa Frankenstein are now streaming exclusively on Peacock. 


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