review: off the rails
Kelly Preston, Sally Phillips, and Jenny Seagrove in Off the Rails (2021)
Sometimes a great soundtrack is the most memorable part of a film. Especially when it’s made up of Blondie songs (some covers, mind you). That is certainly the case with Jules Williamson’s dramedy Off the Rails. The film is about three fifty-something women going on a European journey after their close childhood friend passes away leaving them rail tickets. The tickets come with one final request: that they take her teenage daughter with them, in her place. With lost passports, train strikes and unexpected entanglements, they must put history aside to remind themselves what truly counts. It’s a bittersweet premise given the passing of Kelly Preston, who played Cassie in the film. Her friends group includes Kate (Jenny Seagrove) and Liz (Sally Phillips), all of whom reunite in unfortunate circumstances. While at Anna’s (Andrea Corr) funeral, her mother Diana (Judi Dench) makes a brief appearance. Not much to work with, but Dench gets the job done, then vanishes. The same sentiment can be said for Off the Rails. The writing isn’t engaging enough to escape a generic template, but the cast do their best to walk a fine line between grief and celebration of life. Then, the film vanishes. Out of sight, out of mind.
The camaraderie among the friends group is the strongest feature this film has to offer. The quips and bonds they share gives the sense that they’ve known one another for years. As does the loving encouragements and harsh truths. Having just lost their friend (and at such a young age), life suddenly feels a lot more fragile. The European trip has an ‘every moment counts’/‘seize the day’ sentiment behind it, which acts as the driving force for the characters to reevaluate their own strengths. To remind themselves that they are still at their peak, and they can still get out into the world without life getting in the way. There is some charm to be found in the affirmations of life peppered onto the story, but the subject matter is handled in such an overly lightweight manner that the film becomes almost like background noise. Bland direction and a formulaic screenplay turn this into a challenge to stay on track with the characters on their journey. Frankly, it’s easy to tune out.
Off the Rails starts with promise, and a bit of a tease with Dench’s appearance for one scene only. Great as she is, it’s a wonder why she’s in this film at all, and the mystery of that case is more interesting than most of the film. After a somber introduction, the story gears up for the makings of a road trip comedy. A fun soundtrack of greatest hits, an unexpected addition to the group, a lost passports scare, and moments of heart-to-heart. As a bonus, there’s the gorgeous scenery of European cities. But the elements don’t come together in a memorable or engaging way. The direction doesn’t add much personality; instead, boxes are ticked, formulas are followed, leading to an uninspiring and mostly dull experience. The moments intended to be emotionally impactful fall flat. Jenny Seagrove and Kelly Preston fare out best with good work, but most of the actors unfortunately don’t do much to keep the film on track. Instead, Off the Rails goes in its titular direction. The way this well-intentioned story plays out feels far away from the weight of its message.
Off the Rails is now available on VOD/Digital platforms.
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