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A lot of times, what makes a movie work is simply its style, its ability to lift above the story and deliver the goods with a bit of energetic flare. Okay, so maybe that’s an overstatement. Gotta have characters that make it work, too. And without a director who knows what they’re doing … well, what’s the point? With Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, it’s a pretty good combination of them all, a fun little caper movie that is less about the message than it is about that style, one that works surprisingly well in a film filled with great chemistry and a box car of charm.
Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) is a high school senior, a whiz in all subjects in a town where there are um, not so many whizzes. As good a kid as she is, she uses her smarts to make a few bucks on the side, selling off answers to a lot of other students. Her younger sister is Laney (Rachel Crow), a school outcast who on behest of a friend, ends up chosen to participate in the Teen Miss Idaho Pageant, much to her disinterest as she becomes a target of bullies. Their mother (Danielle Nicolet) is in jail, and actually, kinda liking it, leaving the kids with a houseful of debt and no money. So when an opportunity to rob trains comes along, Deidra & Laney go to work.
Directed by Sydney Freeland, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train dresses itself up like a standard kid’s after school movie of the week but is in fact far sharper than it looks with a funny and satirical script that has plenty of good moments that transcend the premise. And that gets us back to the style, which makes for a visually clever experience that essentially places the movie in an alternate universe where popular electronic stores are called Good Buy and top-line computers are Pears. Freeland continually and cleverly fills the screen with smart visual touches that really layer the story in some fun and sometimes emotional moments that are never distracting, and in fact often so subtle it takes a second to catch. Adults too, are not the bumbling dolts that most in the genre leave them being, but rather fully-developed characters that come around in very satisfying ways.
These include school pageant supervisor Mrs. Fowler (Missi Pyle), a kind-hearted but funny woman who sees potential in Laney, Ms. Spencer (Sasheer Zamata), the guidance counselor who wants nothing more than to get out of this town, Chet (David Sullivan), the kid’s estranged father who comes to work with them, and of course their mother, who is a bottomless well of great moments. On the other side of good is Truman (Tim Blake Nelson), a railway detective who is the film’s central antagonist, gleefully running amok with the role, clearly on the right page for what the film is about.
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a cheerfully inspiring bit of fun that uses crime as a prop to build relationships, nothing new in film, but the takeaway isn’t what you expect and instead, commits to its theme of family and trust with eyes on the characters rather than the lessons. Deidra has goals and getting there is the point, not a distraction. Funny, intelligent, and warm-hearted, this caper is one to join.
Movie description: Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a 2017 crime comedy about two sisters who decide to rob trains to support themselves after their mother ends up in jail.
Director(s): Sydney Freeland
Actor(s): Missi Pyle, Danielle Nicolet, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre: Comedy, Crime