Dave White
The D Train Review

Dave's Rating:

1.0

Stay home.

Although there is at least one earlier, less sexual, usage of the slang term "the d-train," referring to having a generalized bad experience, lately the expression has become more synonymous with the penis. That's because pop culture always needs fresh ways to talk about genitals. In this film, both usages hold court.

Dan (Jack Black) was an early 90s high school loser who graduated, went to junior college, got married to classmate Stacey (Kathryn Hahn), and stayed put in his hometown. Now he's on the organizing committee for his 20th high school reunion, and dreaming of convincing the class's most popular student, Oliver (James Marsden), to come home and attend. A scheme is hatched.

Dan will lie to his boss, Bill Shurmur (Jeffrey Tambor, and yes, that character's name is one of several nods to John Hughes) about a proposed business deal in Los Angeles, one requiring Dan's presence. He will go to Los Angeles and convince Oliver, a struggling actor with one national commercial for Banana Boat sunblock on his resume, to come home for the event.

But what really drives Dan into Oliver's life? Is it simply a bid for a high school popularity do-over? Or is the answer somewhere else, perhaps that place in Dan's secret-brain that inspires him to watch handsome Oliver's shirtless TV spot over and over?

The answer unfolds strangely, and erratically, and it involves casual bisexuality, casual plotting, and casually condescending screenwriting. Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, co-writers and co-directors, the team that co-created the caustic animated series Allen Gregory, return to their preferred landscape, the uncomfortable comedy with no allegiances, one where the target is not simply average, mundane, Middle American experience, but also the regular people living in it.

It's not unlike producer Mike White's first film Chuck & Buck, in which two adult men have to come to terms with their deep, sexual, childhood friendship. There, the focus was on loss, unrealized dreams, and unexplored sexuality. The D Train, though, lacks Chuck & Buck's sophistication and its tenderness. Mogel and Paul's knife digs deepest into the saddest characters, giving them just enough wiggle room to hurt someone close to them before they're finally pinned down with no room to move. Worse, it does so without the fun that's usually part of the "funcomfortable" bargain.

Occasional glimmers of hope peek through here and there, but overall it can be summed up by one scene, where two classmates describe the climactic class reunion as an event they'll talk about for years. And their exchange hammers home the point that they have literally nothing else going on in their lives, and that they deserve their pathetic boredom. Not content to end it there, the script jabs these human beings one more time, with Marsden delivering a final, comic twist of the blade. It's a film that asks "Oh, you had feelings?" before laughing out loud at your audacity. And maybe we can all let it go away for another 20 years before we speak of it again.

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