How Ethan Coen wrote Drive Away Dolls without Joel Coen …….

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The Coen Brothers have always worked together on their often award winning films until recently when Joel went off to do his version of Macbeth and Ethan was left to do his own thing. But here’s how Ethan Coen wrote Drive Away Dolls without Joel Coen …….

A knockabout caper comedy that harks back to the B-movies of the late 1960s and 70s, DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS builds on the decades-long creative and personal relationship of married filmmakers Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke. The film marks a return to narrative features for the Academy Award-winning Coen, who with his brother Joel has created a unique body of acclaimed and beloved films. The couple most recently worked together on Coen’s first film as a solo director, the documentary JERRY LEE LEWIS: TROUBLE IN MIND (2024). With DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS, Coen and Cooke collaborated closely on all aspects of production from start to finish – conceiving, writing, producing, directing, editing and beyond.

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS started its life some years back, in a fittingly impromptu fashion, as a title that popped into Cooke’s head. Her title was DRIVE-AWAY DYKES, a name that promised trash and transgression, fun and outrageousness, a movie that didn’t pander to elevated sensibilities but only to the proudly non-elevated. (And if some cinemas might not want to put it up on their marquees, DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS would preserve the sense of fun—and the alliteration.)

They set out to write a comedy that would live up to the title’s promise in suitably pulpy style. They centred their winding tale on two friends, both lesbians, who have hit rough patches in their lives and decide a road trip will do them good. They sign up with a drive-away car agency for a free one-way rental and are matched with a vehicle bound for their chosen destination. In hallowed cinema tradition, the women are mistakenly given a car that’s been earmarked for nefarious purposes. What begins as a freewheeling pleasure trip becomes a lot more complicated when they cross paths with a pair of bumbling goons and their slick boss.

For Cooke, who identifies as queer, writing a film with lesbian protagonists was something of a given. And that’s essentially how she and Coen wanted to approach the project. “I’m a queer filmmaker, so having queer characters as leads felt natural,” she remarks. “So many movies about lesbians are deep, they’re serious and they’re often very dramatic. It was important to me to tell a story with highly visible queer characters, without having their sexuality be the whole point of the film. We wanted it to have a lot of sex but fun sex, not socially important sex. Like you see in a B-movie, not in an important movie.”

How Ethan Coen wrote Drive Away Dolls without Joel Coen .......

Coen and Cooke’s writing process was informal, unconstrained by things like outlines or world-building. “We’d just bounce ideas off each other,” says Cooke. “We’d talk about characters and scenes that would be fun and would make the movie go. We didn’t much worry about realities that would slow the thing down. We’d toss out ideas like: ‘Okay, they’re breaking up, who gets the wall dildo?’ And then Ethan would write some dialogue, and I’d change it, and we’d go back and forth, passing the computer to each other.”

Coen notes that It’s the same process he’s followed throughout his career. “It’s exactly like how I work with my brother Joel. When we write we just talk it through, scene by scene. And the wall dildo is interesting,” he adds. “We thought, okay, this particular character will have a wall dildo in her apartment. And then we thought, is a wall dildo a thing? It isn’t really, but it sounds like it could be a thing. When Joel and I did BARTON FINK, one of the conceits of the movie is that the writer is in Hollywood, working on a wrestling picture. And is there such a genre as the wrestling picture? At a certain point it doesn’t matter if it’s real. If it fits in the story, it’s real.”

The couple was serious about making a movie that didn’t take itself too seriously. They took inspiration from the sexed-up likes of Russ Meyer’s MOTORPSYCHO and Doris Wishman’s BAD GIRLS GO HELL – “filthy but paradoxically innocent,” in Coen’s words. Another influence was the noir classic KISS ME DEADLY, starring Ralph Meeker as a detective who gets mixed up with people pursuing a mysterious box. Cooke and Coen figured their heroines’ troubles would stem from a mysterious briefcase concealed in the trunk of their drive-away car, and the very bad people who want the case back.

From there, they fleshed out the flatfooted criminal operation that fuels the screwball/noir elements of the narrative, inventing any number of plot twists and colourful side trips as they went along. Among their lodestars in plotting and tone were John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar. Says Cooke, “There were a lot of filmmakers who we thought, ‘Okay, what can we borrow?’ Or how can we at least play around with those tones that we knew from Russ Meyer trailers and from all of the fun, raunchy movies we’d seen by John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar.”

Coen and Cooke wrote DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS as a side project, not intending it as a future Coen brothers film. When the pandemic hit in 2020, they decided to revisit DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS with the aim of making it themselves. One of the first choices they had to make concerned the time period. Updating the story wouldn’t work with the crime caper element of the narrative; between Google, social media, smartphones and other modern staples, even the stupidest criminals would be able to carry out their assignment quickly and easily. Instead, Coen and Cooke moved the action further into the past, to the end of December 1999, with Y2K anticipation in full effect and the 2000 elections on the horizon.

…….how Ethan Coen wrote Drive Away Dolls without Joel Coen !

related feature : Drive Away Dolls reviewed here

related feature : ‘Red White and Royal Blue’ World premiere at London’s IMAX as introduced by director Matthew Lopez

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