The D Train
2015, R, 100 min. Directed by Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel. Starring Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer, Henry Zebrowski.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 8, 2015
Jack Black returns in another unorthodox comedy after never achieving the full recognition he deserved as the titular character in Richard Linklater’s Bernie in 2012. In The D Train, Black plays Dan Landsman, the unpopular head of the high school reunion committee. The film at first appears to be a standard-issue midlife crisis comedy, before events – best left undisclosed – point it toward something weirder and more profound. Although The D Train doesn’t completely live up to its potential, the film earns lots of points for treading a distinctive path through a conventional setup.
Dan lives in suburban Pittsburgh with his wife Stacey (Hahn, good in an underwritten role). She was his high school sweetheart and they have an adolescent son, Zach (Posner). Dan is the favorite of his boss Bill Shurmur (the always reliable Tambor), whose technophobia keeps the business in a nongrowth rut. Late at night, alone in his dark living room, Dan sees a suntan-lotion commercial on TV, and realizes that it stars Oliver Lawless (Marsden), the most popular guy in their high school. Oliver suddenly comes to represent the one who got out, the one who slipped away and achieved success in sunny California. Dan conceives a plan to lure Oliver to the reunion, a coup that would cause Oliver’s golden sheen to rub off on Dan. It’s a plan that involves a bogus business trip to L.A., and numerous ruses and quick machinations in order to keep all the plates spinning.
Marsden is marvelous as Oliver, a carefree boozer, druggie, and wanton bisexual. He’s a dime-a-dozen pretty boy in L.A. who wouldn’t have the time to party with Dan if he had gainful employment, but Dan is too swept up in the reflected glory (and shared drugs) to notice Oliver’s true status. Yet, by the time he returns to Pittsburgh, Dan is hoping that Oliver won’t attend the reunion, but of course Oliver does.
Back in Pittsburgh, the plot slows down a bit as Dan begins to take stock. Co-directors Paul and Mogel, who also co-scripted, could have developed this section more satisfactorily, but as it is, the film feels like it’s hitting the same note repeatedly. Questions about neediness and sexuality arise that would benefit from greater depth, although the filmmakers are to be commended for not driving The D Train into farcically demeaning territory, which could have been a convenient detour. The film is sharp and funny and interested in shaking up the formulas. It just needs to follow through on upending predictability.