The D Train is not going to be for everybody. If you don’t like awkward humor, you won’t like this movie as it is so awkward at times it’s difficult to watch without full-body cringing. Jack Black gives a terrific weirdo performance, echoing his FANTASTIC turn as a buttoned-up weirdo in Richard Linklater’s delightful Bernie, but if you don’t like movies starring weirdos, you won’t like this movie. If you don’t like Jack Black you won’t like this movie because he’s in damn near every frame. And if you don’t like movies that set up one premise and then take a hard left into something else entirely, you won’t like this movie. But if you can get with its weirdness and the cringing and the third-act tonal shift, what you have is a surprisingly heartfelt and very good relationship drama trapped in the premise of a bro comedy.
Black stars as Dan Landsman, a man so deeply traumatized by his experiences in high school he’s still dealing with a kind of emotional PTSD twenty years later. On the surface he has a good life: loving wife, teenage son who actually wants to talk to him, good job with a boss whom he likes and who likes him back. But Dan doesn’t seem to have friends. He’s on his high school reunion committee and clearly no one likes him. He wants a nickname, but no one will accept any of the myriad options he offers. His son wants sex advice from his dad, but Dan can’t help him because he’s convinced his son’s girlfriend is setting him up for a horrible prank.
But Dan can’t function in his otherwise functional life because he’s still trying to be the person he wanted to be in high school. To that end, he decides to go to Los Angeles and persuade Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the cool guy from high school who bailed right after graduation and never looked back, to attend their twenty year reunion. After seeing Oliver in a Banana Boat commercial, Dan assumes Oliver has succeeded in his dream of becoming an actor, and he convinces himself if he can just get Oliver to go to the reunion, it’ll be a big hit and Dan will, finally, be a hero. So he goes to LA, his gullible technophobe boss in tow, thinking they’re going to close a big deal, but Dan sets off to lure Oliver back to their hometown.
And this is where The D Train starts to morph into something else entirely. Marsden nails the part of the never-was actor, down to the stack of bracelets on each wrist, and Oliver feeds off Dan’s hero worship. The two men have a classic bro comedy montage full of drugs and scantily-clad women, but at the end of the night, it’s Dan whom Oliver seduces. The scene is played completely straight (no pun intended), with no winks or nudges. Marsden is crazy sexy when Oliver comes onto Dan, and Dan, star struck by his high school hero, goes to bed with him.
There’s a little bit of I’m not gay-ing, but The D Train offers a nuanced portrayal of sexuality that is incredibly refreshing. Unlike Get Hard, which couldn’t shout NO HOMO loud enough, The D Train (written and directed by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel) is outright subversive, taking the latent homoeroticism inherent in bro comedies to its logical conclusion—the bros f*ck. But the movie is less concerned with the actual f*cking and more interested in the emotional fallout as Dan tries to piece his life back together after a bout of self-destruction, of which his affair is only one facet. Dan’s inevitable reunion meltdown is, and I mean this in the best way possible, physically painful to watch. Unfortunately, everything after the reunion scene is a bit rushed, which shortchanges the satisfaction of the resolution. But overall The D Train is a sincere piece of weirdo theater, and a stellar subversion of the bro comedy.
Attached - James Marsden leaving The Bowery Hotel last week in New York City.