The D Train (2015)

The D Train (2015)
  • Time: 97 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Directors: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul
  • Cast: James Marsden, Jack Black, Kathryn Hahn


All his life, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) has never been the cool guy. That’s about to change – if he can convince Oliver Lawless (Marsden), the most popular guy from his high school who’s now the face of a national Banana Boat ad campaign, to show up with him to their class reunion. A man on a mission, Dan travels from Pittsburgh to LA and spins a web of lies to recruit Lawless. But he gets more than he bargains for as the unpredictable Lawless proceeds to take over his home, career, and entire life. Showcasing Jack Black and James Marden’s most outrageous performances to date, The D Train serves up the question: how far would you go to be popular? Co-starring Kathryn Hahn and Jeffrey Tambor.


  • There are so many contrivances that beggar belief in Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel’s joint directorial debut, The D Train, that it’s a near miracle that they don’t derail the film. There is something about this dramedy that engages and provokes even as it stumbles in tone and execution.

    Jack Black is Dan Landsman, an ordinary man with a steady job at a consulting firm owned by the hopelessly antiquated Bill Shurmur (Jeffrey Tambor). Shurmur sticks to making calls on a rotary phone and doing business deals face-to-face. Shurmur is fond of Dan and Dan’s enthusiasm but until they land a client with a steady cash flow, then Dan will have make do with the office’s barely-there internet connection. At home, Dan contents himself with his lovely wife (the ever-indispensable Kathryn Hahn), teenage son (Russell Posner), and new baby girl. Despite all this, he feels inadequate and non-existent.

    Part of this is stoked by being the self-appointed chairman of his high school reunion’s committee, where the other members treat him as if they were all back in high school by ignoring his directives and shutting him out of the after-meeting drinks. Then one night, Dan happens upon a suntan lotion television commercial starring Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the coolest guy in high school, and gets an idea. What if he can convince his old “buddy” Oliver to attend the reunion? Everyone else would want to come and Dan would be a hero for making it all happen.

    Dan, who’s not above exaggerating the truth, fabricates an excuse to travel from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to personally secure Oliver’s RSVP. He tells both his wife and his boss that he’s going on a business trip to land a potentially lucrative client. Shurmur ends up tagging along, though he proves only a slight obstacle once they’re in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, Oliver agrees to meet Dan for drinks and Dan, so blind in his hero worship, fails to notice that Oliver is not exactly the big-time celebrity he envisions him to be. Still, the two have a great time – Oliver roused from his doldrums by being with someone who idolises him, and Dan clearly ecstatic at having the kind of drink and drug-filled guys’ night he’s never experienced in his life. Oliver even helps him with his business ruse and Dan returns home to await the night of the reunion. Dan should be in seventh heaven, but something happened during his time with Oliver and how he fails to process this proves particularly disastrous.

    High-school reunions dredge up dormant disappointments and insecurities, so it’s not hard to believe Dan’s inflated inferiority complex or how he reverts to behaving like a puppy eager to please in Oliver’s presence. What is more difficult to swallow is the extent of that self-doubt. Dan has made something of himself and he has been married to his high school sweetheart for 14 years. His wife, based on her warm welcome at the reunion, had a healthy level of popularity so surely her acceptance of him would have given Dan some degree of confidence. The business scheme is so unnecessary to the story, but it does result in a touching moment from Tambor, who conveys such disappointment at the reveal that one forgives the sloppiness in storytelling.

    One forgives a good many things in The D Train because, at its core, there is something uncommon and radical. To go into specifics would reveal spoilers, but Paul and Mogel tackle a little-seen subject with a fair amount of tact and sensitivity. There are no easy explanations for what happens, and even fewer answers. Though they provide closure when leaving the situation unresolved would have made for a stronger reverberation, the filmmakers should be applauded for even broaching the topic in the first place.

    The leading duo deliver skillful portrayals. This may be a personal best for Marsden, who completely embodies Oliver’s shallowness without alienating viewer empathy. Black demonstrates his underrated depth of talent, portraying a man increasingly conflicted by the emotions of trauma, shame, envy, resentment, and longing unearthed by Oliver.

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  • Ealing Studios The D Train (my latest review), is a risk taker. It’s the kind of movie Hollywood just doesn’t churn out anymore. Just imagine the late John Hughes, 80’s Cameron Crowe, and even “Train” producer Mike White (remember 2000’s Chuck & Buck?) butting heads while releasing a 100 minute-plus collaboration. That’s what you get here. I’m in awe of the film’s perfect casting (James Marsden is gold as actor Oliver Lawless, a B-lister wannabe), its biting, retro soundtrack (“Turning Japanese”, what a classic), and its dare to be outside the box in terms of theme or thesis. What I’m not in awe of, is its wishy-washy tone with characters who are well dug in, yet hypocritical in their actions. There’s barely anyone to root for and truthfully, The D Train is no comedy (even though it’s advertised that way). After a rough and rugged revelation thirty minutes in, this flick’s caboose detours into darkness pretty darn quickly.

    Featuring a devilish cameo in the form of Dermot Mulroney (for me, this was the best couple of minutes in the whole shebang) and illuminating a cringe-worthy scene in which a man gives a 14-year old boy advice on how to have a threesome with two girls (ugh), The D Train focuses on Dan Landsman (played by Jack Black). He’s a family man, a toad that works at a company close to going under, and a committee head for the 20-year reunion of his high school class. People generally don’t like him, he’s a spaz, and what’s worse, he tends to be short and obtuse with his own kids. But hey, he’s got a plan. He’s going to fly from “the Steel City” to Los Angeles, CA to get one of his old classmates to attend said reunion. Oliver Lawless (Marsden) is his target. Lawless is uber famous starring in a cheesy commercial for suntan lotion. If Danny boy can get this dude to grace everyone’s presence, many will think he’s cool and on the ball. Chaos ensues during an awkward, hazy recruitment between nerd and hunk. Just think Brokeback Mountain on the modern day tip.

    First time directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul film “Train” in two acts. Act one involves L.A. with its glitter and glitz not to mention its penchant for shallow malevolence. Act two is the reunion (over 2400 miles away), a sort of forced mess of despondency. There’s plenty of drug use, plenty of innuendo, and lots of lying. Like I mentioned earlier, this vehicle crosses a line but at least it tries to be a different animal. I mean there’s points to had here.

    Nevertheless, here’s some tidbits that threw me for a loop with The D Train: 1. If Daniel and Oliver slept together (spoiler), why can’t Daniel just let it go? He’s got a wife and two kids and yet he wants to talk to Oliver about it as if they’re in a relationship. Weird. 2. Why does Daniel kick Oliver out of his house and then quit the reunion committee because said Banana Boat guy is the main attraction? Wasn’t it his lame brain idea to have Ollie come to Pittsburgh in the first place? 3. Finally, why would Daniel risk his job and his dignity just to get a no-name, Hollywood cliche back home to anoint every townie with his allotment? What’s the point really? It just feels like the act of a desperate man, a man who needs a hobby or some sort of counseling. Drivel. I mean it’s just plain drivel.

    In the end, what’s authentic in scope, is confusing in latitude. What’s icky in tone, is absorbing in viewership. “Train” is a bruising affair with hardly any laughs. The lead actors dive into their roles (with much discipline) yet the resolve is unclear. Is this a movie about isolation? Maybe. Is it about the need for reverence? I guess. Is it about envy? Sure why not. And is it about inadequacy or just the requirement of friendship? You could say it. Honestly, I couldn’t decipher what the be-all end-all was. That makes it hard for me to truly garner a recommendation. The D Train is not exactly a “train”wreck. But it merely derails when it should just barrel through. The result: 2 and a half stars.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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