Though we are drastically different human beings, I trust my sister more than anyone else on this planet. Despite the fact that we are only two years apart in age, our life experiences have often been worlds apart. I’ve frequently felt stifled under the weight of responsibilities and decision making (our lives drastically changed the year I turned twenty, and she turned eighteen), and I suspect that she’s often felt cast aside and misunderstood. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that other siblings, particularly sisters, have had similar experiences. In her witty and amusing second feature film “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” filmmaker Sydney Freeland highlights these aspects of sisterhood, the desire to escape, and the overbearing weight of an unclear future.
Shot almost like a comic book come to life, we meet Deidre (Ashleigh Murray) and Laney (Rachel Crow), teenage sisters living with their mother Marigold (Danielle Nicolet) and younger brother Jet (Lance Gray), somewhere in the middle of Idaho. Deidre, the eldest, is fiercely determined to use her brain to escape her tragically white and dull town for college. A consummate perfectionist, she rigidly plans out her entire life on three calendars that account for her tutoring sessions, the test answers she sells for extra cash, and her scholarship deadlines. In contrast, her younger sister Laney is angsty and often overlooked both at home and in school. Painfully shy in the face of anyone that is not her family, she and Deidre are often at each other’s throats, having throw down knock out fights to settle their disagreements. (Perhaps it was so amusing because I have literally been there.) Despite the chaos of their daily lives, the Tanner sisters seem to be trudging along until life blows up in their faces.
After suffering a breakdown and destroying merchandise at her place of employment, the Good Buy discount electronic store, Marigold finds herself behind bars. With no other source of income and as the only Tanner sibling of legal age, Deidre is forced to come up with a solution to keep child protective services off her back and to bail her mother out of jail. In need of $12,000 and a whole new weight of responsibilities on her shoulders, Deidre’s dreams of higher education suddenly fizzle into the air.
Desperate for a solution to her family’s financial woes, Deidre begrudgingly visits their deadbeat but charming father Chet, a mechanic on the railroads that run behind the Tanner home. Though Chet only offers up five dollars, Deidre is inspired to begin robbing trains. Enlisting Laney’s help, the girls hatch a legendary and nearly fool-proof plan of stealing merchandise off the train cars and fencing it through Deidre’s weed-dealing ex, Jerry (Myko Olivier).
With the train robberies at the center of “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” Freeland does not forget to ground her audience into the true realities of the girls’ lives. A more upbeat version of Kelly Freemon Craig’s “The Edge Of Seventeen,” Deidre and Laney must also contend with the horrors of high school and nosey adults. Their universe, though small, offers some fantastic millennial centered commentary on social media and the desire to take life by the balls while scoffing at tradition.
The senior class Valedictorian who suddenly can’t be bothered with coming to school, Deidre’s guidance counselor, “SNL’s” Sasheer Zamata is hilarious, desperate and determined to get Diedre into a top college so that she too can escape Idaho. Laney, on the other hand, has found herself roped into the Teen Miss Idaho pageant, much to the chagrin of her diabolical “best friend.” Awkward and bashful to a fault, Laney is taken under wing by her pageant coach who tries to motive the young girl into coming out of her shell.
Just when the girls’ plan begins running smoothly, Chet figures out their scheme and decides he wants in. They also garner the attention of a Pacific Western Railway Rent-a-cop (Tim Blake Nelson). Truman is a vape smoking, fanny pack wearing, caricature of a man, intoxicated by “power” and desperation.Normally I would cringe at this sort of portrayal, but for whatever reason, his cartoonish antics work within the setting of the film.
There isn’t much that doesn’t work in “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.” Though the subplots do get a bit unwieldy for a time, Freeman is careful to refocus them back to the girls’ motivations. For Laney, it’s getting their mother home and for Deidre its getting the hell out. Wonderfully acted and mostly light-hearted, Freeman is nuanced and careful to comment on things like excessive force against Black bodies by people in power, isolating white spaces, the plight of single mothers and how crushing life can be without financial stability. Most importantly, it’s a film about sisterhood and trusting the one person who just might have your best interest at heart.
“Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” hits Netflix Friday, March 17.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami