NEW YORK (AP) — Scripts of all kinds sit in the drawers of Ethan Coen’s home, some to be returned to, some forever abandoned. Some strange mental roadblocks were inevitably encountered when he, along with his brother Joel, ventured down the absurd narrative paths they would write, leading to mysterious halts in their partial scripts.

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“Some partial scripts would stop abruptly in enigmatic places,” Coen reveals. “‘Fargo’ was written many years before we made it, and then we paused at page 70 with ‘Carl is humping the escort.’ Then the rest of that page is void. What happens next?”

A screenplay that remained inactive for years was a script Coen authored not in collaboration with his brother, but with Tricia Cooke, Coen’s spouse and an editor of many of the Coens’ finest movies. The screenplay, named “Drive-Away Dykes,” was nearly set for production two decades ago. A lesbian road-trip comedy, the film — a playfully R-rated, unabashedly queer romp — channeled the essence of long-ago sexploitation cinema.

Written around 2002, the project was pitched years ago with Allison Anders set to direct and, at different intervals, had performers such as Holly Hunter, Christina Applegate, Chloë Sevigny, and Selma Blair linked. However, the funding never materialized. Thus, “Drive-Away Dykes” was consigned to a drawer.

It seemed destined to remain there. After 2018’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Coen withdrew from movie-making, placing one of the most enduring sibling partnerships on an indefinite hiatus. However, during the pandemic, their long-term collaborator T Bone Burnett suggested the idea of producing a Jerry Lee Lewis documentary. Cooke and Coen collaborated on the film, titled “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind.”

“We derived great enjoyment from making that film,” Coen shared in a recent interview, accompanied by Cooke. “We pondered: ‘What’s next?’”

Their subsequent venture, now titled “Drive-Away Dolls,” will premiere in theaters Friday. It signifies both Coen’s long-awaited return to narrative filmmaking and the joyous revitalization of a dormant spirit of ’70s B-movie filmmaking.

“If it leads to more B-movies being produced, bring ’em on,” Cooke remarked. “There’s something very enjoyable and gleeful about them. I recently rewatched ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ and it’s simply so enjoyable.”

“That’s the correct word: glee,” Coen added. “It’s a type of innocent glee that simply isn’t found in movies. You wonder, ‘Why not?’ We’ve encountered John Waters on a few occasions and you can stand there with John and just chuckle endlessly.”

“Drive-Away Dolls,” which Focus Features is unveiling, evokes a similar response. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan undertake the roles of Jamie and Marian, two companions embarking on an impromptu journey to Tallahassee after Jamie terminates her relationship with her girlfriend (Beanie Feldstein). They’re transporting a car originally intended for a trio of criminals (Colman Domingo, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson) who trail them, pursuing a briefcase of enigmatic contents.

Qualley’s character, an expressive fast-talker, conforms to the celebrated mold of Coen’s screwball protagonists from the past. Part of the film’s charm lies in observing a familiar Coen dialect — notable lines include “Tomorrow can wait a day” and the poignant expression “slapping ham on the veranda” — filtered through a new generation of actors and a distinctly different perspective.

“I symbolize the queer world,” expressed Cooke. “All the stumbling men in the film and all of the caper elements decidedly emanate from Ethan’s imagination.”

“Tricia epitomizes the queer and kind, and I embody the straightforward and foolish,” Coen contributed. “That could be the film’s catchphrase: ‘Straight and foolish.’ Joel and I couldn’t pull that off because we’re both straightforward and foolish.”

“I will inform him of your statement,” Cooke replied.

Cooke and Coen wed in 1990 and have two grown children. They characterize their bond as unconventional; each has a distinct partner. The title “Drive-Away Dykes” first dawned on Cooke and Coen, inspiring the subsequent writing process, drawing inspiration from ’90s films like “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Go Fish.”

“Drive-Away Dolls” is intentionally designed to exude a grittier appearance than Ethan’s films with Joel. It is more informally framed by cinematographer Ari Wegner. Much of it is influenced by Cooke’s personal encounters in lesbian bars.

“There are not numerous lesbian genre movies, especially not during that period. I aspired to craft a movie that was lighthearted, culminating in a joyous conclusion, and captured a sense of freedom and enjoyment. That was absent in the realm of lesbian cinema,” Cooke reflected. “It was essential for me to curate a sprightly queer film.”

Coen and Cooke conversed via Zoom from a snow-covered Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they were preparing another film together titled “Honey Don’t.” Nevertheless, Ethan resumed writing with Joel last summer. Following “Honey Don’t,” the brothers intend to reunite as directors for that film, a horror movie they freshly scripted, not derived from an old screenplay.

“We had pondered it for a substantial period but we hadn’t actually penned anything,” Coen stated. “We considered the starting point. It was tucked away in our minds.”

What once appeared to be an inconceivable split turned out to be more of a transient setback. Writing once again with Joel has proven to be as enjoyable as it used to be for Ethan.

“It wasn’t a split. It was simply me going, ‘Uaaagghh,’” Coen verbalized his exhaustion. “It was remarkable. It’s always remarkable. But it’s not like we lost touch. We frequently meet and converse.”

When Ethan withdrew from filmmaking, he cited diminishing satisfaction from the filmmaking process and the repercussions from a few more ambitious productions. “Too many Westerns,” Cooke succinctly summarized. When queried about any shifts in his outlook toward creating films since then, Coen paused.

“I don’t know. Collaborating with Tricia is novel, and that’s invigorating,” he voiced.

“Ethan needed a fresh start,” Cooke added.

Coen winced. “When individuals say ‘I was burned out,’ I always roll my eyes.”

“Drive-Away Dolls” might emblemize a return to a more rugged sensibility. The planned horror movie could hark back to the Coens’ inaugural film, “Blood Simple,” from 1984. Nevertheless, Coen is wary of attributing any shared features to his post-reset movies other than: “They’re not Westerns.”

“I don’t know. Collaborating with Joel and creating those movies was always a blast. It was a hoot, man,” Coen expressed. “‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ it was thrilling arriving at work each day. All of them.”

Another constant for the filmmakers is their inclination to transmute classic Hollywood genres into highly unconventional Hollywood narratives. If “The Big Lebowski” was a riff on Raymond Chandler featuring a Los Angeles stoner as the protagonist, “Drive-Away Dolls” embodies their rendition of the 1955 noir “Kiss Me Deadly.” In that film, famously referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” a coveted briefcase harbors a luminous atomic symbol. In “Drive-Away Dolls,” the briefcase conceals… well, something vastly different.

“These are the structures available to us,” Coen remarked regarding noir and genre frameworks. “I don’t think either of us places any emphasis at all on being inventive or groundbreaking, which spurs individuals to create dull movies in which they express themselves.”

One variance this time lies in the cast, most of whom are not regulars in Coen’s films. Pedrо Pascal holds the briefcase in the film’s opening sequences. Coen and Cooke commended the entire ensemble, including Qualley (“Her default persona is heightened to the max,” Cooke remarked), Domingo, and the exceptional character actor Bill Camp (“Talk about an actor understanding,” Coen remarked). At a certain point, they both realized they were crafting a film with a group of individuals in their twenties at the time, including Qualley, Viswanathan, and Feldstein. “It was bewildering,” Coen remarked.

Nonetheless, other aspects remain unaltered for the filmmakers. Cooke and Coen lauded Focus’ management of the film, yet they have grown accustomed to the predictable feedback from executives once they submit a film.

“It’s amusing how the studio unfailingly responds in that manner,” Coen remarked. “They watch the finished film and express a bemused ‘Huh.’”


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