High school reunions are a joke and sometimes, so are the people who you see there.
Self-proclaimed chairman of his high school’s reunion committee, Dan Landsman (Jack Black), wants to be the exact opposite of what he was many years ago in the 9th-12th grade: Cool. He hasn’t ever had that feeling, because after high school ended, he got his pregnant (Kathryn Hahn), took the first job he could find, and basically, never let home in the first place. That’s why when he sees a former classmate of his, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen, Dan gets the brilliant idea: Get Oliver to come to the reunion and have the reunion itself be a fun, memorable time, all due to Dan himself. However, what that takes is a lot of planning and maneuvering around to get Oliver from L.A., all the way back to home; although Dan is totally up for it too, he may have some problems in the way of his boss (Jeffrey Tambor). Not to mention, Oliver himself may not want to even come at all – something that Dan is able to change, but it all comes at a cost.
While this seems like a very sparse premise, the fact is that there’s something that occurs about half-way through the flick that makes up what’s to become the rest of the movie after it. It’s something I can’t discuss as it will simply spoil the rest of the movie, but do know this: What may seem like a small plot-point, something that could definitely be traded-in as a passing-gag, eventually turns the movie into something very serious and dramatic. Almost too much, would one say?
How I spend every reunion I’ve ever had to attend.
I’m not sure, but there’s something about this drastic step that the D Train that makes it smarter than most comedies. But in hindsight, does it work?
Well, not really. The reason being, too, is that it seems like where co-writers and directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel get mixed up is that they have a neat premise and know what they want to do and say about it, but instead of going anywhere interesting, or better yet, intelligent with it, they just use the most broad example they could find and figure out ways to make the jokes just string off of that. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes that both Paul and Mogel are able to cobble up work and definitely shed some light on the whole bromance subgenre of movies that I’d never see Apatow’s crew bothering to touch.
However, what it ultimately turns out to be is something of a disappoint. See, while Paul and Mogel make it seem like they’re going to discuss the whole idea about growing up, getting out of high school and doing something for yourself, the D Train instead goes somewhere else that feels lazy. It’s as if Paul and Mogel didn’t want to make its audience think too much while laughing, so instead, they just decided the best way to cure all that was to just go for the easiest jokes possible. Once again, the jokes do work and I’d be lying if the movie stopped being serious after this half-way point, but after it all, it made me wonder why there wasn’t more attention given to what seemed like the original intentions Paul and Mogel had.
Though, there is something to be said for a comedy where we get to see plenty of range come from the likes of Jack Black, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, and most especially, James Marsden, that doesn’t just include them mucking it up. Because, for the most part, everybody here is funny and clearly shows they have a great sense of humor to work well within the confines of this script, but they also dig deep into these characters and make them seem like something more than just caricatures. They’re actual humans, albeit, ones with plenty of problems that they may not be able to ever get past.
Such is especially evident in the case of Black’s Landsman, who not only borders on the verge of being incredibly creepy, but may definitely have some self-esteem issues of his own that may not bode well for the rest of his family. I won’t divulge what it is exactly that I am discussing, but Landsman’s obsessive nature is odd and off-putting at times; however, he never becomes a terribly unsympathetic character. There’s a reason for why he acts so insufferably cruel and manipulating to those around him and it’s what keeps most of the moments where he’s just acting like a dick, therefore digging himself deeper into holes he can’t get out of, not only fun, but interesting in what it does to develop this character.
Same goes for Hahn’s character, Stacey. Not only does she love and support her man until the end of their days, but also realizes what it is about him that she loves so very much, even if he can be a bit of a sad sack. She’s not just there as window-dressing to give Landsman a reason to come back home every so often, but she’s actually a genuinely sweet person. And even though most of the easy, softball jokes constantly rely on Tambor’s boss character being present, you can’t help but enjoy what’s happening to his character, as well as sympathize with the dude.
Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.
Then, of course, there’s James Marsden.
I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a huge lover of James Marsden; it’s not because he gets the women that I can only dream of having, it’s not because he’s incredibly handsome as hell, and it’s not because he got to do kissy-face with Famke Janssen back in the day, it’s just that I’ve never been fully impressed with his capabilites as an actor. Sure, the dude’s charming and, more often than not, is able to make me laugh, but I’ve never walked from something he’s been involved with and have gone, “Wow. That James Marsden sure is something.”
That may change now. Not just because Marsden’s hilarious here (which he definitely is), but literally gets to the bottom of the heart and soul of this character, without ever making it seem like he’s trying too hard at all. Oliver Lawless stands in the place of every high school jock who peaked in the 11th grade: Was the life of the party, everybody wanted to be friends with, and had high aspirations for, but when the time came around to actually moving on and doing something with their life, totally fell apart. Marsden’s Lawless may be cool, handsome-as-eff, and suave with the ladies, but is also pretty sad with what he’s become and how he can hardly even get Dermot Mulroney to talk to him. Marsden shows layers to this character that I don’t even know were there to begin with, and because of that, I will forever look forward to seeing what Mr. James Marsden has for me next.
Whether the movie be good, bad, or just, middling. Kind of like this.
Consensus: The D Train flirts with interesting ideas that challenge R-rated comedy standards, but doesn’t do enough justice to them and instead, relies heavily on the charming and likable cast to pick up the pieces.
6.5 / 10
How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire