THE D TRAIN
Directors: Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul
Cast: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner, Henry Zebrowski, Kyle Bornheimer, Mike White
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 5/8/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 7, 2015
Here is the study of a man whose social incompetence and eagerness to please seem to know no bounds. Over the course of a few days, this man financially wrecks his employer, takes up smoking, becomes a cocaine addict, and ends up in bed with another man—all simply because he wants to impress a guy he kind-of, sort-of knew in high school. His humiliation is the sole joke of The D Train, and it's more than a bit cruel, considering the fact that he doesn't have the capacity to realize how troubled he truly is.
That's partly because the other thing to know about Dan Landsman (Jack Black) is that he isn't particularly smart. One guesses that writers/directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul suppose we'll laugh at Dan's various misadventures because he brings all of the confusion, awkwardness (above all else, awkwardness), and eventual misery upon himself. In theory, that's a sound approach to finding humor about and within a pathetic character. The problem is that Dan isn't simply unintelligent and pathetic. He clearly has some severe emotional and/or psychological issues, although what they may be is better left to an expert in that field to dissect.
We feel bad for Dan. At times, it's because of the desperation that shows in his behavior, which means he couldn't stop even if he wanted to. At others, it's because the movie keeps finding new ways to bring about his complete degradation. The first part of that suggests the movie has some sympathy for the character, but then we get to that second part.
Laughing at Dan's self-imposed misfortune—or just Dan himself—becomes increasingly difficult, until there comes a point that even the mere idea of laughing at him is squirm-inducing. We start to wonder how this man has managed to live something even approaching a normal life without being forced into a hermitical existence, and then we start to wish he would, just to avoid having to watch his downfall.
Dan is the self-proclaimed chairman of the reunion committee of his old high school, and no one seems particularly interested in attending this year's reunion. The other committee members don't care too much, either, and they don't want to spend any more time with Dan than they need to, lying about going out to a local bar after a meeting. Dan is set in the belief that making the reunion a popular event would somehow transfer some of that popularity over to him.
The answer, as he sees it, is to convince Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), an alumnus who has just landed a national commercial for suntan lotion, to attend. Dan watches the commercial repeatedly, even recording it on his cellphone in a misguided attempt to convince the rest of the committee that Oliver sent it to Dan. Dan is obsessed with the idea and fakes a business meeting in Los Angeles in order to convince his wife Stacey (Kathryn Hahn) and his boss (Jeffrey Tambor), who tags along despite Dan's protests, to allow him to make the trip.
What follows is a lengthy scheme of deception and self-deception as both Dan and Oliver attempt to make themselves into something they are not. The only difference is that Dan sees Oliver the way he wants to see him, while Oliver is at least partially aware that Dan is trying too hard to impress. Oliver hasn't really "made it" as an actor, but that doesn't stop Dan from assuming that his "old buddy" knows famous people and can bed any woman—or, as it turns out, man—that he wants. Oliver plays along because it's a nice ego boost.
It's all innocent and amusing up to a point, but around the time that a night of drunken revelry leads to a late-night encounter that Dan doesn't expect in Oliver's apartment, it becomes overwhelmingly uncomfortable to watch Dan flounder in the myriad of complications. The company for which he works will likely go bankrupt from his shenanigans. His marriage is falling apart, as he seems to be more jealous of his wife than Oliver when the actor reveals that he had a crush on her in high school. He starts acting like a scorned lover around Oliver, despite having no desire for anything beyond a friendship with the guy.
The movie itself becomes unappealing but so, too, does Dan, whose actions develop from woefully overcompensating to recklessly irresponsible to impenetrably confounding. Yes, he grows into someone more reasonable by the end of The D Train, but the question is not only whether that development is believable but also if it's worth spending time with him through the arduous stumbling process. To both questions, no, it is not.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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