Jack Black and James Marsden’s new “comedy” The D Train might best be described as a mash-up between Fatal Attraction and Ricky Gervais’ version of The Office. It’s cringe comedy taken to heretofore unknown heights, and might inspire the audience to spend as much time staring at the theatre floor or their hands than at the screen. The first of many problems is that it’s not much of a comedy. The laughs are rather sparse, leaving us with no defense from the awkwardness.
The story: awkward, lumpy Dan Landsman lives a life of quiet desperation with his wife—the only girl who would date him in high school—and teenage son and baby daughter. The only thing he’s looking forward to in life is his 20th high school reunion. He and several other former high school peers have formed a “reunion committee” with the express purpose of cold-calling other former students and trying to get them to come. The other members of the committee seem to despise Dan, and are openly hostile to him at every turn. Meanwhile, while up late one night, Dan stumbles across a suntan lotion commercial, starring his old classmate, the impossibly cool and beautiful Oliver Lawless. He decides to fly to Los Angeles to woo Oliver to come to his reunion, thereby redeeming himself in the committee’s eyes and making the reunion a success. (By the way, if you’re wondering who plays Dan and who plays Oliver, get thee to a Google image search).
We’re already starting a bit behind the 8-ball, with a plot that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Reunion committees trying to badger them into coming? Is that really a thing? And if it is, do they all gather together on a weekly basis and cold-call former classmates? I can’t believe that. If this movie is meant to be a broad farce where nothing plays realistically, that might fly, but there’s very little farce. There’s just Dan being dumped on by his “friends” on the committee, and in turn being completely dismissive to his wife and child due to his extremely unhealthy obsession with grabbing Oliver for this reunion. It’s his own personal white whale.
Dan concocts an excuse to his technophobic boss Bill (a fantastic Jeffrey Tambor), telling him that there’s some business prospects in Los Angeles with a client who wants to sell widgets or whatever, and Bill cant’ confirm anything because he doesn’t know how to get online. Tambor’s Bill is an utterly guileless, sweet man and Dan’s constant lies to him regarding the internet and social networking inspire a great deal of hatred for the character. It was a big mistake to make Bill so nice, given the abuse Dan throws at him throughout the movie. So Dan is off to LA, to meet up with the dreamy Oliver Lawless.
And here’s where the story takes a turn. There’s an event that happens probably even before the midpoint of the movie, but it’s not in the trailers, and some might consider it a spoiler, so walk away now if you don’t want to know:
Dan and Oliver totally do it. “D-Train” is a pun, you guys.
And then things get weird. I won’t say anything else about the plot, except to say that this office has officially killed the odious term known as “bromance” by taking it to its logical extreme. “Bromance” has always seemed like a desperately self-conscious term, brought about by the fact that homosexuality has entered the mainstream and suddenly straight men with close friendships had to somehow account for those friendships and make a joke about them. Somehow, “we’re close friends” sounds way more gay than “we’re in a bromance”. It’s like if you call it out, it makes it not true. Like when forty year olds say “I’m old”. We don’t really think we’re old. We’re whistling past the graveyard and you’re supposed to fucking laugh, dammit.
There’s a lot of problems with this movie. Dan’s motivations post-gay sex are all over the place and impossible to read. He also forces Oliver to engage in one uncomfortable conversation with him after another, all the while being so cruel to his wife, son and poor Bill that you just want to punch that fucking face again and again. Maybe a better actor would pull it off, or maybe a more coherent script was needed. Regardless, once everything has really taken a nosedive plot-wise, there’s a really odd and tacked-on triumphant ending that feels entirely unearned. But the movie gets massive credit for really finally “going there” and never getting gay-panicky about it, not even for a moment. And there are a handful of lines in the third act that are so uncomfortably true, they take your breath away. So there’s that, at least. And if in 23 Jump Street Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum stop talking like a couple and actually become one, then we’ll have James Mardsen and those cheekbones to thank for that.