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    A Roundtable With the Drive-Away Dolls

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Drive-Away Dolls is a fabulously queer comic thriller opening February 23 in Bay Area theatres. The film, directed by Ethan Coen, who cowrote it with his wife, Tricia Cooke, is set at the beginning in Philadelphia, 1999, with a man known as “The Collector” (Pedro Pascal) being violently relieved of a briefcase that needs to be delivered to Tallahassee.

    Coincidentally, Jamie (Margaret Qualley), who has just ended things with Sukie (Beanie Feldstein), is headed to Tallahassee with her best friend Marian, (Geraldine Viswanathan). The young women don’t know that the aforementioned briefcase (along with another questionable box) is in the trunk of the car they are delivering one-way. Moreover, Jamie is less concerned with arriving in Florida on time; her mission is to help Marian “loosen up,” as it has been several years since she last had sex with a woman. (Jamie, in contrast, has sex with a woman almost every day; hence the breakup with Sukie.)

    Meanwhile, the Chief (out Philly native Colman Domingo) has two goons (Joey Slotick and C.J. Wilson) chasing after the women and the suitcase. Suffice it to say, sex, mayhem, and comedy ensue. 

    Drive-Away Dolls is tremendous fun with jokes, sex toys (including a dildo attached to a wall), as well as fists and bullets flying fast and furiously. I recently met with Qualley, Viswanathan, and Feldstein for the San Francisco Bay Times to talk about their new film.

    Gary M.Kramer: This film is likely to become a lesbian classic. What did you think of this film when you read and were offered it?  

    Margaret Qualley: I loved it. I was so excited to read it and get my hands on an Ethan Coen/Trisha Cooke script. I couldn’t be a bigger fan.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: When I heard there was an Ethan Coen movie going around, I thought, “Oh, my God. It’s such a dream come true.” It felt so out of the realm of possibility. The script was unique and interesting. They are such brilliant writers.

    Beanie Feldstein: We all auditioned, and it was a wild ride. My eyes were getting bigger and bigger but it is so rooted in their relationship of true love and connection and humor and populated by these Ethan and Trish characters—the goons, and the cop, and the boss—and the fact that I get to play one of those true character side roles the Coens are famous for and then this being an Ethan/Trish version of that and a lesbian hard ass cop, I was kind of mind blown.

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about the female camaraderie in the film? The women are all very supportive of each other—although Sukie, who is mad at Jamie, may be the sole exception. I also appreciated the emphasis on female pleasure; it not only talks about that, it shows it … in several scenes. Can you talk about that?

    Margaret Qualley: It disheartens me, the generations of women that didn’t have that or get to talk about it, but here I am saying that because I’m conditioned to.

    Beanie Feldstein: It’s OK. We’re working towards something. There is progress.

    Margaret Qualley: It was super f-ing fun.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: It kind of just makes you want to do movies where you are hanging out with girls all the time.

    Margaret Qualley: A thousand percent! It was such a good vibe. It was just a good hang.

    Beanie Feldstein: That’s kind of all I like. That’s my main joy.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: The men in the movie are all fumbling fools.

    Margaret Qualley: All the good parts are girls!

    Gary M. Kramer: As they should be!

    Margaret Qualley: You said it!

    Gary M. Kramer: Geraldine and Margaret, can you talk about finding your characters through the way they speak and dress? It is very amusing to see how they express themselves verbally and visually. I found Jamie sultry and irresistible, and I loved Geraldine’s reaction to a guy who says, “Anyhoo … .”

    Margaret Qualley: For me, I am a straight girl in life, so when I check out another woman it’s usually a quick [makes noise]—you look up and down to see what the girl is wearing. It was fun to luxuriate in it. Jamie is such a hound dog at any moment in the bar, if she can creep around and catch a woman’s butt walking by, she will. Which is a fun position to be in. Women don’t usually check out men that way, so to ogle is a fun thing to do. A lot of my character was figuring out ogling and enjoying ogling.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: [dryly] Oh my God, that is so fun.

    Beanie Feldstein: And you nailed it.

    Margaret Qualley: She’s ogling … .

    Beanie Feldstein: When you put your arm up on the wall.

    Margaret Qualley: I was going for Tom Cruise in Magnolia.

    Gary M. Kramer: I would think of someone more like Barbara Stanwyck.

    Margaret Qualley: Yes! Let’s go with that!

    Gary M. Kramer: What about you, Geraldine? How did you find the verbal and visual clues because your character, Marian, is rather, well, uptight?

    Geraldine Viswanathan: In the script, she is written as “zipped up.” The costume really helped with that. She’s buttoned up to the very top in the first outfit in the bar watching Jamie on stage; couldn’t be more conservative. That helped inform the character.

    Gary M. Kramer: She gets looser.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: The costumes track that after she gets laid. She’s suddenly in a sundress.

    Gary M. Kramer: The language is also so precise. I love how she tangles with all the characters.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: She has a deep appreciation for literature and words. She is old school. Not a lot of young women turn to Henry James’ The Europeans.

    Gary M. Kramer: Did you read it?

    Geraldine Viswanathan: Some of it. It’s a big book. I would listen to it on audio.

    Beanie Feldstein: She prayed to the God of Henry James.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: I would have needed a year to finish the book.

    Beanie Feldstein:The Gods were kind.

    Geraldine Viswanathan: Have you read it?

    Gary M. Kramer: No, but I have read Henry James. Beanie, can you talk about your action scenes? You are badass.

    Beanie Feldstein: It was amazing. Our stunt coordinator was a woman of my height, and her assistant was a 6’5″ big, built guy. It was perfect. They would show us what to do and we would emulate it. It was amazing to be led by a female stunt coordinator. It’s not that common. It was fun to be taken seriously, and Suki is really taken seriously—people are scared of her in some ways. That was a real empowering moment for me. C.J. [Wilson] was wearing a contraption so I could actually kick him. It was really practical; we were actually doing it, which made it all the more visceral and fun, which was something I’d never done before.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you each tell me about a road trip mishap you’ve had?

    Margaret Qualley: I rented an RV with some friends in Los Angeles, and we drove to Montana. It took two days to get there, and three days on the return. We ran into some moose. I was driving on the way home and there were sirens behind me, and I realize I don’t have my license on me. My dear friend, who is a model, was in the passenger’s seat and she swoops under me and takes my seat. She took all the blame, and because she did the right thing, the Gods were kind to her. When she opened the RV door, the cops were taken aback. She had the boobs out, and her blond hair … she was stunning. She is British. The cops were all hubbada hubbada hubbada. She was, “I’m so sorry, was I speeding?” and they were like, “No, it’s fine actually.” She carried on the driving, and I sat there stunned. She was such a good friend!

    Geraldine Viswanathan: Oh my gosh, how am I going to top that?

    Gary M. Kramer: Make it up!

    Geraldine Viswanathan: I could make it up! I was driving across country and it was crazy! No, actually I feel very Marian about this. I was on a holiday in Hawaii, with my friends, and we did that drive through the mountains in Maui. I was so carsick in the back seat while they were having a blast in the front. That’s all I can think of.

    Margaret Qualley: “One time, I got carsick” is your story?

    Geraldine Viswanathan: That’s Marian!

    Beanie Feldstein: My wife and I were invited to the Hannukah Party at the—this sounds so stupid and silly—The White House. We drove from New York to Washington, and literally as we crossed from Maryland into D.C. proper, she turned to me and said, “I don’t have my passport with me!” She’s not American. They wouldn’t let her into the White House because she only had her British driver’s license, and the Secret Service “didn’t feel comfortable with that.” My wife came up with a whole song about how the Secret Service are uncomfortable with her, and we sing it to this day. That was our road trip mishap.

    © 2024 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” He teaches Short Attention Span Cinema at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and is the moderator for Cinema Salon, a weekly film discussion group. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on February 24, 2024