What if all your efforts to be cool ended up destroying you? That’s the joke in The D Train, a quiet tragedy misrepresented as a buddy comedy. Jack Black plays Dan Landsman, the desperately school-spirited head of a high school alumni committee who attempts to court the coolest guy in school, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), for a 20-year reunion.
In order to win Lawless’s attendance and approval, Landsman fibs his way to a supposed business meeting across the country, where he reunites with the sexy Lawless, now a commercial actor. All begins to unravel over the course of one fateful Los Angeles night, and Landsman’s web of lies unfurls a domino of disasters, eventually enmeshing his family, boss, and classmates.
Though the preview suggests a perky mood, there is barely a laugh to be had in this nightmarish piece. Scored beautifully by Andrew Dost, who lends a nostalgic ’80s-flavored tone to the film, it’s a downright dreary exploration of our delusional attempts to better ourselves for the sake of others’ acceptance. We watch in silent horror as the obsessive Landsman neglects his family and employer all for the love of one supposedly better-off man, only to later find the same man supplanting him in both realms.
Black does a good job displaying pathological infatuation in a welcome turn away from his usual School of Rock–type roles. Marsden is ideal as the icily suave Lawless, and Jeffrey Tambor is a dark-horse standout as Landsman’s humble and beleaguered boss. I suppose one could see it as a tonal failure of a film, for even as a black comedy, it’s not particularly funny, but this reviewer at least enjoyed its dark-hearted and bizarrely moody take on Hollywood’s usual “Be yourself!” theme.
Sometimes self-discovery takes a string of self-destructions, and it’s refreshing to have a movie that reminds you that even if the audience isn’t laughing, the universe certainly is.