Film Review – The D Train
The D Train
Dan Landsman (Jack Black), the main character of Andrew Mogel and Jarred Paul’s The D Train (2015) is one of the saddest people I’ve seen in awhile. He’s narcissistic, condescending, and hungry for attention. Underneath the layer of confidence is a sensitive individual who borders on being a sociopath. And the saddest thing of all: he knows it. Despite having a nice house, a caring wife, and a well-adjusted kid, Dan urges for more, even if that means ingratiating into other’s personal bubbles. He wonders why people aren’t eager to hang out with him. I’m sure they would ease up if he didn’t try so damn hard to be the best person in the room.
It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? We all want to be liked, but for Dan there’s something deeply troubling inside where he can’t exist without the exaltation of everyone. He can’t see that he’s already carved a pretty good life – heck, his son Zach (Russell Posner) actually wants to talk to him about stuff. And his wife Stacey (Kathryn Hahn) encourages him to go out and socialize. Yet for whatever reason Dan remains at near depression, longing to be accepted in whatever form or fashion.
He finds that opportunity in his upcoming 20-year high school reunion. Appointing himself the head of the reunion committee (which means being in control of the group’s Facebook page), Dan goes on a mission to get as many people back in Pittsburgh as humanly possible. Things don’t start well when most of the class don’t respond to the invites. Seeing his dream of being the big man on campus slipping away, Dan takes desperate measures. After catching his old classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a Banana Boat commercial, Dan decides to fly all the way to LA and convince the actor to come back for the reunion. If people realize one of their own has “made it” in Hollywood, they’ll show up in flocks.
This is a nice turn for Jack Black. The comedy he brings to Dan is nothing we haven’t seen before, but there’s an edgier tinge in his performance. Like what he did in Bernie (2011), Black injects a level of darkness into the character. Dan is a conniver, and a bit of a slime ball. He’ll lie to anyone to get his way, even when he knows it’ll only build up and bite him in the long run. Unfortunately, Mogel and Paul’s screenplay doesn’t give Dan enough for us to really empathize with. Yes, Dan wants to be “the popular guy,” but his characteristics are so dark that it’s hard to see the good in him. In reality, he’s the villain of this story.
James Marsden gives one of his career best performances as Oliver Lawless. He is completely believable as the drug fueled, sex addicted, D level actor. Lawless knows that the Banana Boat commercial is about as far as he’s able to go, but with the adoration Dan spills on him Lawless can’t help but play along to prevent his own embarrassment. Marsden is the true standout, appearing to have a ball with such an over the top character. It makes you wonder what other things he could accomplish if given the opportunity. After a night of “catching up” with Dan, Lawless decides to go to the reunion. And that’s when things get really weird.
Mogel and Paul do a good job of weaving all of Dan’s deceits around each other, and slowly tightening the stranglehold. There’s growing anxiety as Dan tries to keep all of his lies afloat, especially with his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) who could be hit especially hard if he learned the truth. But the interesting thing is how the story flips around against Dan. As more people are drawn to Lawless and the reunion, Dan tries harder to cling to Lawless’ affections. He develops an obsessive dependence with this person he never knew in high school, and becomes jealous as others start to enter the picture. It’s like a “bromance,” but one side is more invested than the other.
This is a gloomy story of a disturbed person. I suppose one can say Dan’s predicament is black comedy, but the writing plays it way too safe. We anticipate that the plot will end drastically, but Mogel and Paul decide to go with the sentimental route, diluting what had been building. The last act feels like nothing that came before. Where we saw characters taking matters into their own hands regardless of consequence, we see them turn around and talk about significant life lessons as though they’ve all of sudden become wiser. It was a character transition that did not play smoothly.
I like the concept of The D Train, but the final product left much to be desired. It’s not that funny, and relies heavily on a repeated gay joke that comes close to being offensive. If it was going to take that path, it should’ve invested the whole way through. We can’t see these characters one way for nearly three fourths of the film, and then believe they’ve become better people overnight. That’s the kind of thinking that got Dan in hot water to begin with.