Deidra and Laney Rob a Train
“It’s life-affirming to watch a trans woman direct a movie about whatever the hell she wants.”
Title: Deidra and Laney Rob a Train (2017)
Director: Sydney Freeland 👩🏽🇺🇸🌈
Writer: Shelby Farrell 👩🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Sometimes, all I really want is a lighthearted movie with silly antics and just enough depth to make me care about the characters, but not so much that it starts to take effort. Deidra and Laney Rob a Train falls firmly into this category, and better yet—thanks to inclusive talent, like its trans and Navajo director, Sydney Freeland—Deidra and Laney struts to an important beat without the heavy gravitas that can so often accompany “indie” films.
Above all, it’s a damned fun movie that’s great for kids, teens, and adults alike. The fact that it’s inclusive, and lets girls be the heroes of their own stories, is just a (big) bonus.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Between the fact of having women in the two primary creative roles—Freeland as director and Shelby Farrell as screenwriter—Deidra and Laney also centers female leads who are supported by a proliferation of other women in roles that range from mother to guidance counselor to beauty pageant mentors. They push and pull against each other in a glorious riot of relationships, whether as superficial as seeing teenage girls size each other up in high school hallways, to the self-sacrificing love an older sister has for her younger siblings.
With this gravitational center occupied by women, Deidra and Laney is easily one of the most feminist offerings on Netflix right now. And it doesn't even feel like it's trying. This isn’t Ocean’s 8 (2018) or Rough Night (2017); sometimes it's nice to avoid pat conclusions about female friendship and instead, just sit back and watch them unfold in their natural habitats as classmates, family members, or mentors and mentees.
A quick look at the characters: the film’s protagonist, Deidra Tanner (Ashleigh Murray), has had to grow up too fast thanks to her mother who landed herself in prison, but Marigold Tanner (Danielle Nicolet) never comes across as a villain. Rather, she’s a quirky human being with the nervous energy of a child, and she’s always given her all to her kids—even when her all wasn't enough for three growing teenagers. Meanwhile, Deidra’s younger sister Laney Tanner (Rachel Crow) provides a welcome foil as the sweeter kid who would prefer to follow the rules and be praised for winning the Miss Idaho beauty pageant than be caught up in grand larceny. Regardless of their different personalities, each Tanner exhibits deep affection for the other, and it shows in every scene of this feel-good movie.
Native filmmaking consistently gets overlooked or co-opted by non-Native artists bent on telling indigenous stories, with or without their input. That’s why Deidra and Laney is all the more important. Directed by Freeland, who was born on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to a Navajo father and Scottish mother, Freeland’s film joyously elevates women of color to primary roles. Women of color are plot drivers, love interests, mischief-makers, and flawed badasses.
Specifically, Deidra and Laney centers the multiracial family of the Tanners. The mother Marigold is played by Nicolet, who is half Black, while the father Chet (David Sullivan) is white. Their three children are played by multiracial actors except for Deidra, played by Murray who is Black.
All this is to say that this film incorporates diversity to a natural and authentic extent. Their ethnicities are never explicitly spoken about, but by virtue of creating a world that feels deeply diverse from extras in background shots, through to supporting roles alike, Deidra and Laney scores full points in this category with ease.
Bonus for LGBTQ: +1.00
It’s life-affirming to watch a trans woman direct a movie about whatever the hell she wants. Off the heels of her debut film, Drunktown’s Finest—a film set at a Navajo reservation not far from the one Freeland grew up in, and featuring a trans storyline—Deidra and Laney pivots to lighter fare, showcasing the flexibility of this talented director.
It’s powerful to remember that marginalized groups don’t have to mine their traumas just to be heard. In fact, it’s a nostalgic experience that drew Freeland to this project, as she and screenwriter Farrell explain how they bonded over a childhood spent in proximity to trains—even as one hails from New Mexico and the other, Tennessee. This seed of shared life experience eventually sprouted into Deidra and Laney, and it just goes to show that identity is formed by more than just our visible markers. Trans filmmakers should continue to get opportunities that represent the brilliant breadth of their humanity.
Bonus for Body Positivity: +0.50
It’s a small detail but one that goes much appreciated, nonetheless: the film’s resident “mean girl” is played by an average-sized teen, rather than a rail-thin stereotype. Played by Brooke Markham, high schooler Claire is deliciously catty and brings a wonderful balance of humor that drew literal LOLs from me without ever feeling mean-spirited. In fact, after the credits roll and a final scene emerges, we even see Claire arm-in-arm with a boy to call her own.
Mediaversity Grade: A+ 5.00/5
Deidra and Laney proves to be a blast, and a nourishing one at that. If you have Netflix, spend a couple hours watching teenage chicks rob trains as they spring their mother out of prison. You’ll be supporting an exciting filmmaker who has oodles of talent to spare!