Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: Ethan Coen’s “Drive-Away Dolls” Is an Uproarious and Romantic ‘90s Farce

What to see and what to skip.

Drive Away Dolls (IMDB)


*** The first act of Drive-Away Dolls, Ethan Coen’s pre-Y2K lesbian screwball comedy, is pure cringe. It’s 1999 and two friends, Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Jamie (Margaret Qualley), are driving a rented sedan from Philadelphia to Tallahassee—and acting more like caricatures than characters. Marian is a bookish romantic; Jamie just wants to get laid, dude! The film is so dependent on stock characterizations that Ethan initially seems to be flailing without his filmmaker brother Joel (like Joel’s gorgeously austere The Tragedy of Macbeth, Drive-Away Dolls is a Coen brother movie, singular). Yet when Marian and Jamie get ensnared in a scheme involving a seething senator (Matt Damon) and a murdered dildo collector (Pedro Pascal), Drive-Away Dolls emerges as a cleverly comedic and romantic provocation. Despite being set after Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, the film imagines the ‘90s as an age when bigoted politicians were more ridiculous than dangerous and even Florida church ladies could be prevailed upon to support gay marriage. Kinky lovemaking abounds, but the evolution of Marian and Jamie’s bond—from friendship to far more—carries a whiff of Jane Austen, with Qualley playing a boisterous Elizabeth Bennet to Viswanathan’s disdainful Mr. Darcy. Is it any wonder that Coen wrote this jubilant lark of a movie with his wife, the film editor Tricia Cooke? The couple that plays together stays together. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Century Eastport, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Movies on TV, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall.


**** Every dawn, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) awakens without an alarm. His neighbor’s sidewalk sweeping initiates the handsome 60-year-old’s daily consciousness, and a routine begins. Mustache trim, coveralls, canned coffee, cassette in the van stereo (Patti Smith or Lou Reed) as Hirayama commutes into Shibuya City to dutifully clean Tokyo’s public toilets. From what we can tell—because Hirayama says maybe five sentences in Perfect Days’ first half—the dirty job is just a job to him. The work remains in balance with Hirayama’s passion for music, his voracious reading, and his lunchtime nature photography. It’s no mystery why directing legend Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire) would be interested in rendering such a life. What 78-year-old, capital-A artist wouldn’t be? This is idealistic working-class poetry (à la Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson) about a man who accepts life as a series of days that can be pleasurable if porcelain scrubbing and creative ruminating are treated with equal care. As the Cannes jury decided when they gave him Best Actor in 2023, Yakusho makes all this mundanity incredibly watchable. The Japanese star’s shifting micro-expressions reveal a character who can be bashful, boyish or imposing when his constancy is interrupted by his co-worker, his niece, or a fateful stranger. We may wonder why Hirayama chooses solitude, but his ability to be present is as comforting as it is aspirational. Wenders taps into a precious cinematic paradox: We viewers escape our lives to be mindful inside someone else’s. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.


**** Both lyrical and essayistic, the latest film by Ava DuVernay is, firstly, a feat of adaptation. Here, the Selma director interprets the 2020 nonfiction bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which explores pancultural patterns of dehumanization throughout history. Yet Origin also foregrounds the research and writing of that book by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), turning this story into the cultural study meets memoir it never was on the page. It’s a bold choice, with DuVernay drenching the writer’s pursuit in historical flashbacks, as Wilkerson searches for the thesis of Caste across Germany, India, and the Deep South (where Audra McDonald, playing interview subject Miss Hale, delivers an astounding one-scene performance). With Kris Bowers’ orchestral score pulling the audience across borders and centuries, Ellis-Taylor embodies the quiet obsession of a writer who lives mostly in her head but is desperate to crack the code of man’s inhumanity to man. Sociologists and historians could rightly argue that Wilkerson’s premise—that racism is the result of deliberately constructed caste systems, not inherent biases—is flawed because capitalism, colonialism and genocide are expressed differently through American slavery, the Holocaust, and the subjugation of India’s Dalits. But that doesn’t matter when Origin is stretched to its full height. Akin to another rhetoric- and editing-centric piece of creative nonfiction, Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), the ways in which theories hold water isn’t Origin’s reason for being. What matters is the deluge of anecdotal and emotional truth. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.


**** Astoria becomes an extension of a young woman’s soul in Sometimes I Think About Dying, an exquisitely restrained drama from director Rachel Lambert. Rey Skywalker herself, Daisy Ridley, plays Fran, a numb office worker who sits rigidly in her cubicle, silently terrified of being forced to engage in pleasantries. With eerie grace, Sometimes I Think About Dying peers into Fran’s suicidal visions—she imagines herself entombed in a tangle of driftwood on a desolate beach—but even as the film evokes the monotony of her depression, it gleams in moments of connection. An unexpected friendship with a hyperactive, pie-munching co-worker (Dave Merheje) leads Fran to a murder mystery party, where she delights the guests by flamboyantly miming death by acid. Fran is never more alive than when she yanks death from the darkened crevices of her mind and plays it as farce, an act that draws her more deeply into a city and its people. Sometimes I Think About Dying is unmistakably an Astorian movie—only in a close-knit community could a character give directions to their home by saying it’s behind “the purple house”—but its emotional reach goes beyond the sweep of the Columbia River, which to Fran seems both an empty void and an inviting canvas. Sometimes she thinks about living. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Fox Tower.


*** Fans of macabre teen flicks like Edward Scissorhands and Warm Bodies should find enjoyment in Lisa Frankenstein, the latest quirky project written by Oscar-winner Diablo Cody (Juno). Kathryn Newton plays Lisa Swallows, a misfit growing up in 1989 who feels unmoored since the death of her mother…and finds her life taking a peculiar turn when a Victorian-era corpse (Cole Sprouse) rises from the dead and falls in love with her. Loaded with Cody’s usual acidic wit and oddball detours, Lisa Frankenstein goes heavy on neon lighting, voluminous hair, and malfunctioning tanning beds. Director Zelda Williams (the daughter of Robin Williams) channels early Tim Burton with her juxtaposition of gothic and suburban aesthetics, which gives the picture plenty of knowing style. Some of her and Cody’s choices fall flat (the film has at least two endings too many), but Newton and Sprouse are always there to provide spark, reveling in their excellent chemistry as they tread through the weirdness. Lisa Frankenstein won’t hit for all audiences, but it is easy to foresee it gaining a cult following, like the 2009 Cody-scripted feminist horror flick Jennifer’s Body. PG-13. DANIEL RESTER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One.


** “Sometimes,” Rita Marley (Lashawna Lynch) says to her husband Bob (Kingsley Ben-Adir), “the messenger must become the message.” Her affirmation illuminates the thesis of Bob Marley: One Love, that the reggae superstar must learn to accept the consequences and dangers that come with being an activist and not let them impede his mission. It’s a noble sentiment that makes for a compelling arc, but it is undercut by the screenplay’s version of Marley and his beliefs, which are sanitized to the point of sterility. The story—which kicks off with the attempted assassination of Marley in 1976, prompting an exile to London where he recovers from the trauma while writing his landmark ninth studio album, Exodus—rarely rises above artist-biopic cliches, despite occasional flashes of brilliance from director Reinaldo Marcus Greene (King Richard) and the compelling combo of Ben-Adir and Lynch (whose performance is a reminder that after supporting roles in No Time to Die and The Woman King, she’s overdue for a starring vehicle of her own). Perhaps One Love’s greatest disappointment is that it’s so thoroughly average; a man like Marley deserves a mightier film. Devotees may find some enjoyment in hearing hits from the singer’s back catalog in surround sound, but anyone hoping One Love will do justice to an icon will find that the cinematic message lacks the conviction of the messenger. PG-13. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin. Studio One.


** After an unintentionally meme-worthy marketing campaign, a few critics have been quick to call Madame Web—a schlocky Spider-Man spinoff starring Dakota Johnson as clairvoyant paramedic Cassie Webb—the nadir of the superhero genre. It’s certainly not that. The film fails to hit the so-bad-it’s-good lows of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Steel (1997) or Batman & Robin (1997), outside of a few heinous moments toward the end (including a villain being vanquished by a Pepsi sign). That’s not to say it’s good. As Cassie defends a group of teenage girls (including Sydney Sweeney) hunted by the nefarious Ezekiel (Tahir Rahim), it becomes clear that director S.J. Clarkson’s film is mostly just another dull attempt by Sony to spotlight Spidey’s side characters. Johnson and Adam Scott (as the tellingly named Ben Parker) breathe a bit of life into the tale, as do a few clever set pieces (a subway sequence comes off best). But the clunky dialogue, lumbering pacing, and underdeveloped supporting characters reveal the desperation behind Johnson’s viral promotion of the film: “You’re gonna love it.” PG-13. DANIEL RESTER. Avalon, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, Studio One, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.

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