As the title of the movie, “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” indicates, two of the characters in this movie, Deidra and Laney specifically, rob a train. Actually, if you really want to get technical about it, teenage sisters Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and Laney (Rachel Crow), rob many trains. They do this because their mother, Marigold (Danielle Nicolet), gets sent to jail for destroying a TV at her place of work and the family needs money.
It is not quite a tale as old as time, but it isn’t unfamiliar ground either. Jean Valjean’s troubles started because he stole a loaf of bread when his sister’s child was close to death (at least, that’s what he says in the musical version and that’s what I’m going with for this comparison). The thing is though, when Valjean has the chance to be an honest and forthright person, when he has the chance to do good for those around him, he stands up and does it. Additionally, Javert may never be able to understand Valjean’s motivations and may never see Valjean as a decent human being, but he’s not out-and-out evil either. The inspector here, Detective Truman (Tim Blake Nelson), has no redeeming characteristics and is played wholly for laughs.
I do not mean to suggest that director Sydney Freeland’s new movie, launching on Netflix this Friday, is trying to be anything like “Les Miserables.” The point is that there is a way to tell the story of people who are forced to the wrong side of the law with nuance and depth. “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” never comes very close to that.
Valjean learns something over the course of his journey and becomes a better person. While Deidra may have a moment of clarity where she recognizes that she has acted like a typical teenager towards her mother, one would be hard-pressed to make the case that she recognizes the evils of theft. Instead, Shelby Farrell’s script attempts to make the audience accept Deidra & Laney’s thievery through Truman’s wretchedness. That is, it is okay for Deidra and Laney to not get a comeuppance because the inspector who works for the railroad is a bad guy. This is all less morally questionable and more outright silly.
Then again, it should be noted that not only is “Deidra & Laney” more meant for the tween/teen crowd than “Les Mis,” it is also a comedy and not a drama.
The movie does have its fair share of well executed moments. There are some laughs to be had as Deidra discusses her college options with Ms. Spencer (Sasheer Zamata), her guidance counselor, and gets paid for helping other students with their homework. While Crow’s Laney plays second fiddle to Deidra and isn’t given much besides a fish-out-of-water teenage beauty contest, the actress makes the most of it and Nicolet is wonderfully funny as their mother. The girls have a brother, Jet (Lance Gray), as well, but he is more a plot device than a person, and the whole relationship with their pseudo-absentee father, Chet (David Sullivan), is both predictable (due to the type of movie this is) and inexplicable (due to the utter foolishness of it). The less said about it, the better.
While much of the above reads like a laundry list of issues with the movie, the real problem with “Deidra & Laney” is that it offers moments that are wonderful—like every scene with Zamata or Nicolet as well as those with Missi Pyle, who plays the beauty contest coach—but doesn’t maintain that level the rest of the time. All too often, the movie feels like it should be more deep or more thoughtful or more clever, and it gives off this sense because there are other moments when it is that good. Instead though, it regularly settles for a more surface approach and in the process winds up feeling disposable.
Viewers of the right age who sit down to watch “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” will, most likely, enjoy themselves over the course of the movie’s 90 minutes. It sails right along, never getting bogged down in anything. But it doesn’t stand out either, even though it offers the sense that it could.
photo credit: Netflix