Off the Rails (2021) : A Tale of Travel and Friendship with Too Many Detours

Off the Rails (3)

While several films with traveling women, most popularly Thelma and Louise (1991), have been winning over the hearts of its audience for years now, there has been a surge in the depiction of middle-aged women setting out on the road to successfully master the steering wheel of their life recently. The Wine Country (Netflix), a 2019 directorial debut by Amy Poehler, is a fitting example of the same. On this road, traveling comes to symbolize the journey undertaken by the characters to arrive at a crucial juncture of self-discovery in their life. Off the Rails, directed by Jules Williamson, steers towards the same goal. We find ourselves becoming a part of the amusing conversations and unplanned detours comprising this journey of three old friends in their fifties and their late friend’s daughter, sometimes making sense and sometimes not at all.

The film starts off with the knowledge of a friend, Anna’s death due to cancer, and her funeral which is attended by her three friends from college, Kate, Liz and Cassie. Soon after, they find out that their late friend has booked them rail tickets to recreate their unfinished graduation trip, with the only condition that they must take her daughter, Maddie, along with them.

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We speedily take off along this European trail, curious about how the three of them could jump on this bandwagon at such short notice, especially since the film introduces the characters in the middle of their work lives. More curiosity awaits us as the film rolls on with the travelers getting derailed from their list of planned itineraries and wandering off for romantic, technical, and monetary reasons.

They really seem to live by the idea that love, men, and music will help float them on this trip. Does the derailing help them tear through the layers of dust that their friendship has accumulated over the years? The film is ultimately not compelling enough in the realizations that it sets out to highlight because it weaves strands of stories into the plot throughout its ninety-four minutes-long runtime but leaves them unsatisfactorily attended to. For example, I continue to wonder how Kate (played by Jenny Seagrove) was bearing with her share of the expenses or who paid for her, or why the characters were barely shaken by the loss of their passports in a foreign land.

There are two particular instances that threaten to throw the storyline off the rails. One, a birth-giving episode which takes up a good number of chaotic minutes, and second, the locals commenting upon the English way of traveling. Taken up by the whirlwind of who shall deliver a baby and how it shall be delivered in the middle of nowhere after their train breaks down, the birth-giving episode forgoes a few minute details surrounding hygiene and biology, including placenta attachment and final hour of labor, which don’t escape the audience’s attention. It ends up appearing as bizarre as the idea of carrying a dead person’s ashes in one’s pendant and successfully compelling security personnel about the same.

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The second episode is far from humorous. The stereotyping would have been complete, and successful to that extent if the entire film were a commentary on how the English travel. Alas, we have no other way of traveling to compare the English travelers’ ways against. Both these episodes take away the necessary attention from the main plot, not even fulfilling the idea of comic relief, and leaving us to wonder how these precious minutes might have added finesse to the plot.

Thankfully, the act of traveling itself and the beautiful locales they pass through on their journey help redeem the journey. Snatches of spritely conversation among the old friends keep the spirit enlivened as well. I enjoyed the conversation between Liz (played by Sally Phillips) and Cassie (played by Kelly Preston) where they discuss the details of how menopause feels, like “puberty without hope”. It features the cozy honesty of an old friendship.

The script, however, tends to downplay the potential of the three lead actors, leaving their roles wanting for more scope to grow and connect better with the audience. It also focuses so much on the stories around the three friends that it almost forgets to make space for Maddie (played by Elizabeth Dormer Philips) who is coping with her mother’s death, doing her character no better justice than the character of Dan played by Ben Miller.

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Music fills the film, almost too much at times. Yet, I cannot deny that the soundtrack secretly adds to the enthusiasm among the travelers in Off the Rails. It is a delectable comedy about women in their fifties, teaching the audience that they still have enough spirit and time left to have fun. The film is dedicated to Kelly Preston, who had been battling breast cancer for two years before her death, and she is honored in the credits that roll up right after the film ends.

Off the Rails is a warm watch despite its flaws, and it deserves to be appreciated because of Kelly Preston’s final screen appearance. It was released in the United Kingdom on July 23rd, 2021, and is available for streaming on-demand across platforms, such as Vimeo.


Off the Rails Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Off the Rails Cast – Jenny Seagrove, Sally Phillips, Ismael Calvillo Millán, Kelly Preston, Peter Bowles

Ahendrila Goswami

Moody. Film Reader. Caramel popcorn hoarder. We can talk if you promise to not judge my film choices.