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The D Train (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

The D Train

The D Train

THE D TRAIN (2015)

Starring Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer, Han Soto, J.T. Rowland, Henry Zebrowski, Nicole Barré, Adria Tennor, Donna Duplantier, Denise Williamson and Dermot Mulroney.

Screenplay by Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel.

Directed by Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  97 minutes.  Rated R.

I gotta give The D Train this, they certainly take the quickly-becoming-a-cliche bromance film and take it to a whole new level.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of personal opinion, I suppose, but you have to give the film a certain amount of props for fearlessness.

The D Train starts out like The Odd Couple, or The Hangover, or I Love You Man, or Get Him to the Greek, or Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.  But just when you think you know where this comfortably unchallenging buddy film is going, the movie flips the switch on you: the “bromantic” couple actually has sex.  Like serious, don’t-drop-the-soap sex, not rape exactly and but not exactly wanted by the recipient either.

It is at the end of a debauched evening, both of them are crazy drunk, and neither of them are gay (one is devoutly straight, the other one is bi).  It was not out of love and neither of them wants to repeat it, but still for the straight guy, this completely out-of-character action has floored him.  He’s not sure how he feels about what has happened – guilty, disgusted, a little turned on, oddly jealous – but suddenly everything the guy thought he knew about the world seems wrong.  And how can he go back to his suburban world of husband and dad after this like nothing ever happened?

It’s an extremely edgy direction to take a film which had been seeming to be content take the easy way out.  And while The D Train doesn’t quite live up to its storytelling chutzpah, it changes what was a pleasant-but-forgettable standard issue comedy into something darker and more nuanced.

It is also impressive that co-writers/directors Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel did not use this plot twist as a joke, a way to mock the characters.  It was a real life-changing situation (at least for one of them) with real fallout, and the film treats it with gravity.

But we have gotten ahead of ourselves.  While that controversial narrative choice may make The D Train stand out of the pack, it is not the be all and end all of the film.  (In fact, advertisements for the film pretty much ignore that particular tangent.)

As I said, the movie starts in a much more common, if still rather enjoyable, domain.  It is a high school reunion film, which are always bittersweet even though they are usually comedies: (i.e. Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, 10 Years, Peggy Sue Got Married, American Reunion, Grosse Point Blank.).

Jack Black, in his best role in years (I suppose since Bernie), plays Dan – a former high school loser who now has a dull 9 to 5 job, is married to his sweet high school flame (Kathryn Hahn) and is the father of a similarly dorky son.  (Dan was so scarred by his high school experience that everytime his son suggests that he may have met a girl, Dan is certain that it is a trick to humiliate him.)

Despite having been a social pariah at school and having every reason to want to forget the four years completely, Dan has become the gung ho head of the high school alumni association, trying to set up the class reunion.  Just like in school, his association co-members can’t stand him, regularly tease him and refuse to invite him out for beers when they go out after meetings.

Instead of making him want to quit, the irrationally needy Dan just works harder and harder to get everyone to like him, with little or no success.  However Dan needs to feel a part of something, a drive and a want that colors his every action.  One night when watching TV on late night, he sees a cheesy commercial for Banana Boat suntan lotion and recognizes the lead actor as Oliver (James Marsden), a good-looking former classmate who disappeared to Hollywood to discover fame and fortune.  Dan just knows that if he brings this Hollywood star back to the reunion, he will finally gain the love and respect that he so hugely yearns for.

Therefore, Dan puts his job on the line and makes up a fake business trip to LA to catch up with his old classmate.  Dan has stars in his eyes from the moment he makes it out there, certain his old buddy is living the TV star dream (in a nice, good-natured cameo, Dan is pumped that Oliver might know actor Dermot Mulroney, and Oliver plays along).  In reality, though, Oliver’s career has never taken off (the suntan ad is the only job he’s gotten in years), he drinks and does drugs and parties wildly.  Oliver feels he is a fraud and has no interest in going back to his old hometown to be put on display.

Oliver takes Dan on a couple of raucous, drug and alcohol and girl wild nights of crazy Hollywood partying, and on the last of those nights they end up back at Oliver’s apartment and things happen.

Feeling bad for his old friend, Oliver finally decides to go back to the reunion for him, but suddenly Dan is not so sure he wants him there.  However, when he comes to stay with them, Dan’s emotions get even more complicated: he wants Oliver to go and yet he is jealous about other people getting to spend time with Oliver at the same time.

Of course things get out of control, the secret gets out and people are hurt all around, and yet the film plays this out in a nice, easy and non-judgmental style.  The film is somewhat ambiguous about how this episode will affect his marriage and his job, but that’s okay.  It’s not a drama, it is a light comedy, after all.  But The D Train treats its potentially explosive situation more evenhandedly and respectfully than we had any reason to believe, so we’ll forgive the movie its little flaws.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: September 4, 2015.

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