Sometimes, the best place to be born again is when you’re in the middle of life.
Starring the late Kelly Preston, Off the Rails tells the story of four women to lose a piece of themselves when their friend Anna passes away. Having always dreamed of taking a trip to Italy together, Anna’s dying wish is that they will continue to live the dream without her. As a result, Kate (Jenny Seagrove), Liz (Sally Phillips) and Cassie (Preston) and Anna’s 18-year-old daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) decide to set out on the European rails together in honour of their late friend. However, when old feuds begin to resurface, the four women must decide whether to allow the past to derail their adventure or put them aside and continue on together.
Directed by Jules Williamson, Off the Rails is a delightfully fun yet mature comedy that should please audiences. While the story structure seems familiar, Williamson takes the trope of the ‘road trip’ movie and somehow makes it feel unique and even fresh. In fact, there’s an energy and enthusiasm to the film that’s infectious. Tapping into its stunning setting, Williamson allows the vitality of its European countryside setting to breathe life into her characters. With wide shots and slow panoramas, she wants the viewer to feel immersed in the charm and beauty of the area. (In fact, in many ways, the countryside even becomes a character in itself by inviting the women to experience a sense of renewal and refreshment.)
Adding to the fun is its Blondie-infused soundtrack which fuels the spirited vibe of the film. By leaning into the repertoire of one of rock’s most legendary female-led bands, the music takes on a life of its own. On the one hand, it leans into the ‘road trip’ atmosphere of the film. Rails feels like a mix tape has been placed in the dashboard of the vehicle as they freely roar down the highway. (Honestly, it’s hard not to sing along at least a little bit.) However, on the other, it also speaks to the power and voice of women who are taking that journey. From One Way or Another to Heart of Glass, Williamson uses Blondie’s music is used as a voice of encouragement and empowerment to her characters and it works.
Certainly, one of the most interesting aspects about the cast itself is the inclusion of Preston. Having passed away last year from breast cancer, there is a certain sense of honour and irony in the fact that her last onscreen role should be a story about women experiencing personal rebirth after the death of a friend. However, the focus here really should be on her performance. As always, Preston brings her trademark affability and charm to the role of Cassie and shines as the emotional core of the film.
At the same time, it must be said that Rails features some truly engaging work here by Jenny Seagrove as well. As the frustrated and (somewhat) repressed Kate, Seagrove anchors the film with a grounded enthusiasm. Embedding her character with a mix of courage and fear, she brings a maturity to the group which often pulls the scene together.
With its emphasis on rediscovering your passion for life, Off the Rails also feels like a film about rebirth. Having been split apart by the mistakes of their past, the death of Anna gives these women a chance to move forward together. Frustrated by loss and bitter about their flaws, they question whether or not they should ‘pack it all in’ emotionally. However, their time together opens their hearts. As they reflect on their past together, the women realize that their relationships matter more than their past indiscretions. These are the spaces where forgiveness break in and allow them to experience freedom. Because of these moments of grace and hope, Cassie, Kate, and Liz discover a new path forward. Although they bear the scars that come with life, this journey allows them to see beyond them.
When grace and hope break in, those scars no longer define them.
Fueled by pop and fun, Off the Rails is a lighthearted and joyful experience that celebrates leaning into the next chapter of our lives. Without question, this is an adventurous and playful film about rediscovering life when you’re in the middle of it.
So, feel free to join in and sing along.
Off the Rails opens in theatres on Friday, December 10th, 2021.