I sat down to watch The D Train thinking it was a comedy. After all, it stars Jack Black, James Marsden, Jeffrey Tambor, Kathryn Hahn, and Mike White. And hey, have you seen the trailer? Take a look.
But joke’s on me. There’s nothing funny about The D Train. Instead, co-writer and co-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul made an awkward drama about dicks, literal and metaphorical, and the damage they cause. And much like Dan’s neediness to establish a nickname for himself (D-Fresh? D-Slice? D-Man?), The D Train is more excruciating than entertaining.
Jack Black stars as Dan Landsman, a family man and pencil pusher who is fast approaching his 20th high school reunion, desperate to impress. It’s not looking good. Despite micromanaging the planning committee, Dan gets no love from his fellow alums—save for his wife (Hahn in a role that’s a waste of her comedic timing and charisma). But after spotting former high school cool guy Oliver Lawless (a vaguely dirtbaggy Marsden) on a TV commercial for Banana Boat, Dan becomes convinced that getting this stud to attend the reunion will change everything.
So, Dan concocts an elaborate lie to his technophobe boss (Tambor) and supportive spouse and flies to Los Angeles on “business.” While he’s risking his job and marriage to befriend an actor who has clearly failed to launch, you might wonder why this plan makes any sense at all to Dan. Hey buddy, don’t focus on that. How about some titty shots in a strip club? What if they did coke? How about a Dermot Mulroney cameo? Oh, and what if Dan and Oliver fuck?
Yup. The big turning point in The D Train is that its two heroes take their bromance to the next level.
To Marsden and Black’s credit, this transition from winding down after a night of barhopping to gearing up for a night of bed humping is not played for cheap laughs. They make out with a frenzy that’s earnest if not hot, save for a close-up of Black’s face in a fit of discomfort during the actual act.
To Mogel and Paul’s credit, this bro-centric narrative doesn’t devolve into that all too typical comedy trope of gay panic. Instead, Dan becomes fixated on Oliver, wanting to keep him all to himself, pushing away his family and friends from the famous guy he managed to bring back to Pittsburgh. And interestingly, Oliver knows he’s a failure, but relishes the chance to play the high flyer once more. So, he’ll be damned if needy Dan will clip his wings. There are some intriguing elements at play, but ultimately all of this is uncomfortable at best and fucking depressing at worst.
It’s a pretty big problem that a movie being sold as a comedy isn’t actually funny. At all. But more troubling is that we’re meant to empathize with its anti-hero. This isn’t Jack Black’s typical lovable loser figure. I don’t believe a life-changing moment of redemption will make this guy decent or even salvageable. He’s a liar, a swindler and a cheat whose priorities are woefully fucked. And so too are those of The D Train, making this journey aggravating.
When Dan goes on his eventual and inevitable resolution apology tour, The D Train takes big chunks of screentime so he can get right with his heartbroken father figure/boss and his hardly rattled son, who knows everything because Facebook. But Dan’s betrayed wife barely gets a moment to air her totally valid grievances before she’s shunted to the wing’s for Dan and Oliver’s big final moment. Because, let us never forget, The D Train is about dicks. And it sucks.