It’s really not entirely clear what the thinking was behind Off The Rails. The idea of a jukebox musical using the songs of Blondie as a framing device must have seemed very appealing to someone at some point; perhaps director Jules Williamson heard Debbie Harry singing Sunday Girl in French, and had the genius idea of setting a film about a bunch of middle-aged women in Paris on the strength of it.
To be fair, there’s really not much more substance to the film than that. Kate, Liz, and Cassie (Jenny Seagrove, Sally Phillips, and Kelly Preston in her last role) are three friends who reunite at their friend Anna’s funeral, where they start singing Dreaming; there are reasons for this, I’m sure, but if the film itself can’t be arsed to go into detail, then I really don’t see why I should. Anna’s mother (a criminally-underused Judi Dench, who is, obviously, the single best thing in the film, despite being on screen for only a few minutes; she will not, however, be taking home any awards for this film) tells them her dying wish is that they go to Mallorca to see the sun shine through a cathedral window, apparently a life-changing experience they all missed out when the four had travelled Europe many years earlier. Oh, and they have to take Anna’s daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) with them, even though they hardly know her.
And so they head off. And that’s about as interesting as the film gets. It trundles agreeably around Europe, tossing in snippets of Blondie hits where it feels like. Sometimes, there’s a point—Sunday Girl, as we’ve seen, has a French version, so let’s sent them to Paris, France! But beyond that there’s little point to much of the musical selections. Atomic‘s in there, as magnificent as ever, as is Rip Her To Shreds, but, oddly, Williamson has chosen to use the re-recorded version from the band’s 40th-anniversary album, not the original, their first UK single. But I suppose we should be grateful he couldn’t shoehorn in Rapture, surely Blondie’s most disappointing moment.
But perhaps they should. It would have been fitting for Off The Rails, which, ultimately, is simply not terribly good. It’s a very, very easy watch—you know what’s going to happen, it’s pleasant, agreeable, and in the end quite forgettable. When there is something resembling conflict, or peril, such as the loss of some passports, the matter is fussed and fretted over for a scene, then never mentioned again. There is little chemistry between the leads; indeed, it’s not at all clear what might have united them at any stage in the past. How, for example, did an American doctor end up mates with a pair of home-counties housewives?
Off The Rails is the kind of film you just don’t really want to interrogate too closely. There’s some lovely travel scenery that will either just make you jealous right now or make you pine for the Before Times, and there is, of course, some truly splendid music—of course there is, it’s a Blondie film. But that’s about all there is to say for it. This is not a film that will stay with you. It’s a toss-away bit of nothing, and on that level it just about works.