Netflix’s new teen comedy Deidra & Laney Rob a Train just switched the style up in the genre. Set in rural Idaho, the movie has a Napoleon Dynamite feel with a more colorful leading cast and way darker twist. Deidra Tanner (Ashleigh Murray) is the smart oldest child of a single mother, Marigold (Danielle Nicolet). When Marigold has a nervous breakdown at work and gets jailed for domestic terrorism, Deidra is suddenly the head of household. She’s burdened with bills, making sure her two younger siblings aren’t taken by Child Protective Services, and raising enough money to bail her mother out of jail. So she and her sister Laney (Rachel Crow) hatch a plan to make the money by robbing the trains that pass their home daily.
DALRAT offers commentary on a whole host of issues. Corporate capitalism is both explicitly and implicitly named as the bedfellow of criminalization. The pressures of raising three children as a single parent are heightened in this movie. But at it’s core, DALRAT body slams the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" narrative by honing in on the realities of generational poverty. At their financial best, the Tanner family has food in their cabinets, bills that aren’t past due, and not enough savings to pay for a semester of college for Deidra. Despite its hilarity and obvious appeal to young people, shit gets real in DALRAT.
Some critics have already accused to show of being too light-hearted and sanitized for such a gritty and serious subject matter. This is a critique I don’t recall hearing about shows like Shameless — which, while not rated PG, is definitely funny — or movies like Juno. Poverty is inherently sad, as are bank robbery, unplanned pregnancy, and murder. We have made room to explore all of these themes satirically in film. That we want poverty, incarceration, and/or mental health struggles to always be tragic when it comes to people of color says more about our culture than it does the creative team behind DALRAT.
I appreciated that DALRAT doesn’t center middle- and upper-class white teens in a personal tragedy-based comedy. Good movies and TV series are able to capture the complexities of being marginalized in America. They recreate both the sorrows and the joys, which coexist with each other. They capture the creative outlets that people stuck in poverty use to cope and be inspired, and deliberately reframe what “opportunity” looks like. I think DALRAT did a great job.