Film Review – The D Train (2015)


The D Train might look like amusing Friday night fare – which it is – but there’s far more to this Jack Black and James Marsden starrer than a few gags. Writer-directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel have crafted a subversive tale that tackles themes of sexual identity and masculinity whilst providing consistent laughs and compelling performances.

Black stars as Dan Landsman, the self-appointed head of his high school reunion committee, who has never been cool. He hopes this will change by getting Oliver Lawless (Marsden), the most popular guy from his high school who’s now the face of a national Banana Boat ad campaign, to attend. Using the excuse of a (fake) business trip, Dan flies to LA to convince Oliver to attend, but their relationship takes an unexpected turn that will dramatically transform Dan’s family, career, and entire life.

Opening like a traditional Jack Black vehicle – we see Landsman attempting to fit in at his committee meetings – throwing around nicknames to his fellow members who’d rather be at the bar without him. There’s a real awkward sadness in Landsman, something that’s alleviated by his initial meeting with Lawless. What could have easily been a buddy comic romp about two old students tearing it up in LA turns into a dramedy of spiralling deceit, broken emotions, and subversive bromantics – as a fun night out turns into something more life-changing.

The D Train captures Landsman as a man trapped in his high school days, who takes his role on the committee painfully seriously (see the comic exchange about the Facebook group’s admin password) – however, this disappears when he meets Lawless. The chiselled bisexual Banana Boat ad star is bowled over by Landsman’s fawning compliments, who lauds him as a national hero. Exuding the confidence and sex appeal of an A-List movie star, Marsden’s Lawless unsurprisingly charms Landsman bringing one of the film’s key narrative twists.

Paul and Mogel’s narrative manages to be both dread-filled and humorous in tone thanks to Blacks’ tightly-wound performance and some excellent dialogue – most of the standout comedy comes through Landsman and his technophobe boss (Jeffrey Tambor, in a surprisingly touching performance). However, this is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve – and after that night in LA there is a real emotional complexity to The D Train. As the reunion approaches and Lawless arrives in town, Landsman’s jealousy builds – treating this new friendship like a relationship (for evident reasons), whilst the Banana Boat ad star grows distant. There’s a bubbling foreshadowing on display as pressure mounts at Landsman’s work (thanks to a hair brained scheme by Lawless and Landsman) and Stacey (Kathryn Hahn) grows suspicious of Dan’s strange behaviour.

This emotive depth is perfectly channelled by Black in a career best performance (tied with his turn in Richard Linklater‘s Bernie, of course). This fragile protagonist might be the source of much of the humour, but there’s a sad tale about a man craving approval here and Black manages to present a man whose emotions and are continually flipped by his confusing relationship. Like Black, Marsden’s role is something we’ve seen him do before – play the hunk unaware of his actions, but the final act calls for some poignant retribution which Marsden impressively delivers.

In its subversion of the Hollywood bromance, The D Train provides an amusing and dramatically complex look at sexual identity, small time life, and acceptance. Black and Marsden excel and carry these themes in a naturalistic and engaging manner, thanks to the stellar writing-directing team of Paul and Mogel.

Andrew McArthur

Comedy | USA, 2015 | 15 |Sony Pictures | 18th September 2015 (UK) |Dir.Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul | Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor,