Some critics are getting all up in the face of this audacious dark comedy for, well, being audacious. What are we supposed think about a movie in which the characters don’t conform to Hollywood formula? I’d start with grateful. Screenwriters Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, in an auspicious directing debut, are attempting to tackle emotional areas that can’t be glibly resolved. Sure, they trip up a few times. But it’s exhilarating watching them aim high.
The D Train stars Jack Black in a terrific, rangy performance as Dan Landsman, a loser who’s spent his life resenting not being cool. Dan has a decent job at a Pittsburgh consulting run by a kindly, retro boss (the great Jeffrey Tambor), plus a wife (the reliably wonderful Kathryn Hahn) and two kids who love him and tolerate his controlling tendencies. Emotionally, though, Dan has never left high school, a place where the cool kids avoided him like an STD. But now Dan thinks he’s found his moment. As the self-appointed chairman of his 20th high school, reunion committee, Dan can make a name for himself. How? By going to Los Angeles and persuading Oliver Lawless (James Marsden),the coolest kid in class and now a studly Hollywood actor, to come home for the reunion and let Dan bask in his reflected glory. Of course, Oliver is hardly tinsel-town royalty. His biggest claim to fame is a Banana Boat sun lotion commercial.
The movie pivots on that L.A. visit and what transpires between Dan and Oliver. To spoil that surprise would deservedly earn me the wrath of filmgoers. Let’s just say that Dan and Oliver share a moment of honesty and intimacy that Dan has never known. And when Oliver returns to Pittsburgh for the reunion, Dan’s emotional neediness comes crashing down on everyone in his life, especially on himself. Marsden is stellar playing a star who never was, finding the weakness in this bisexual prettyboy who’s just beginning to wonder what will happen when his looks start to go. Dan and Oliver rep two different kinds of losers, and the filmmakers nail every nuance, comic and calamitous. Black and Marsden are both extraordinary. To say you’ve never seen either of them like this would be a gross understatement. Ignore the haters, and give the hilarious and heartfelt D Train a chance to work its magic.