Tucked away in the private crevices of Ethan Coen’s residence lie scripts of all variants, some begging for completion while others are destined to never see the light of day. Reflecting on a shared writing journey with his brother Joel, which often led them astray into bizarre narrative cul-de-sacs, Ethan recalls halting moments, such as when they seized writing “Fargo” at the peculiar scene detailing Carl’s liaison with an escort, only to revisit and complete it years later.

Among these neglected works resided a peculiar screenplay not co-authored with Joel, but rather with Coen’s wife, Tricia Cooke—an editor renowned for cutting many of the Coen brothers’ acclaimed movies. The script, initially christened “Drive-Away Dykes,” remained in a lengthy hibernation. As a lesbian road-trip comedy, it embodied a free-spirited, R-rated, unapologetically queer vision, harkening back to the days of sexploitation cinema that blossomed decades earlier.

Created circa 2002, the screenplay attracted the interest of director Allison Anders and, during its development, the engagement of actors such as Holly Hunter, Christina Applegate, Chloë Sevigny, and Selma Blair. Battling the tides of financial instability, the screenplay was eventually consigned to obscurity.

Coen, by 2018, had seemingly withdrawn from the cinematic realm, placing one of Hollywood’s most iconic sibling partnerships on an indefinite hiatus. However, amidst the depths of the pandemic, the duo’s long-term collaborator T Bone Burnett proposed a fresh endeavor: a documentary on the life of Jerry Lee Lewis. This project, which Coen and Cooke brought to fruition as “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind,” reignited their passion for collaboration.

Their subsequent project, now under the rebranded title “Drive-Away Dolls,” heralds a jubilant return to theaters this Friday. Not only does the release mark Coen’s re-entry into narrative filmmaking, but it also re-invokes a jubilant, freewheeling essence of ’70s B-movie bravura—a prospect Cooke relishes with unreserved excitement.

“Drive-Away Dolls,” heralding from Focus Features, follows the chaotic escapade of Jamie and Marian, portrayed by Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan. When Jamie ends her relationship with her girlfriend (Beanie Feldstein), the duo impulsively set out on a trek to Tallahassee, delivering a car inadvertently entwined with the pursuits of three criminals gunning for a mysterious briefcase.

The film amalgamates the familiar Coen-style dialogue and off-kilter storytelling with vibrant performances through the lens of the younger generation and a queer narrative. Cooke publicly acknowledges her role in representing the queer dimension, juxtaposing Coen’s penchant for quirks and capers.

The personal lives of Coen and Cooke echo the idiosyncratic nature of their work. Married since 1990 and now parents to grown children, they continue to flourish within a nontraditional marriage, each having separate partners. The genesis of “Drive-Away Dykes” stemmed from this very dynamic, with the two drawing inspiration from queer cinematic highlights of the ’90s.

While “Drive-Away Dolls” assumes a grittier aesthetic than the Coen brothers’ past endeavors—attributable to the looser cinematographic style of Ari Wegner—it is profoundly influenced by Cooke’s lived experiences within the lesbian community. Through Cooke’s lens, the film strives to be a light-hearted, liberating counterpart to the gravitas that often imbued lesbian cinema.

Meanwhile, Coen and Cooke verge on producing yet another collaborative piece, “Honey Don’t,” though Ethan Coen has also revisited writing with Joel, punctuating reports of a permanent split. “It wasn’t breaking up,” Ethan clarifies; it was merely a need to recalibrate.

Despite hardships and evolved industry dynamics, Coen and Cooke’s adherence to reimagining classic Hollywood genres remains unshaken. “Drive-Away Dolls” takes a page from the noir playbook, echoing “Kiss Me Deadly”—yet, with Coen and Cooke at the helm, the mysterious briefcase sparks off an utterly distinctive narrative.

Delivering a cast not typical of longstanding Coen affiliates, with the likes of Pedro Pascal, the filmmakers express immense praise for the vibrancy and depth of their actors. While some things evolve, others—like the somewhat perplexed reactions of studio executives to the Coens’ finished productions—persist with amusing predictability. Nonetheless, “Drive-Away Dolls” stands as an embodiment of Coen and Cooke’s creative resilience and enduring legacy within the ever-shifting landscape of American cinema.

By IPL Agent

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