Taking a ride on ‘The D Train’

Reunion allows a forgotten figure a chance at redemption

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

What does it say about our culture and society when watching the story of someone like Dan Landsman (Jack Black), a quintessential high school loser, a member of the invisible forgotten class, that we all seemingly automatically identify with him, especially as he nears his 20th high school reunion and, as the unofficial chair of the organizing committee, he longs to prove to everyone else and himself, that he is no longer “that guy,” he dares to dream up a scheme to seize the moment for himself? We couldn’t all have been the little guys, the less popular types. Empirically, there were the jocks and the cool kids on one end and the geeks and freaks on the other, but really, most of us were simply treading water in the great middle of the high school pond, right?

But there’s something in the story of the losers that we connect with, we intrinsically associate ourselves with these players because we’ve bought into the idea that the jocks flame out during their high school days, never able to maintain their supernova status, and they drift off the radar, leaving the geeky losers as the inheritors of the real crowns of the ruling class of life. That’s the dream.

Filmmakers Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul (screenwriters on the Jim Carrey vehicle “Yes Man”) take the helm of “The D Train” and endeavor to poke holes in the thin-skinned balloon of perceived success and the efforts of those seeking a second chance to make a first impression.

Dan always dreamed of being a popular guy with a cool nickname. Yet, despite his less than stellar beginnings, he was able to go to college, marry his high school and college sweetheart (Kathryn Hahn), and start a family in his hometown. Throughout it all, Dan has continued to daydream about what might have been, and as his fellow reunion committee members freeze him out of post-meeting gatherings, he pines and schemes anew.

A chance viewing of a national commercial featuring his high school classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) offers Dan the opportunity he’s been waiting for, and he seizes it. Setting up a series of quickly escalating lies, Dan bounces his way to Los Angeles in order to convince Oliver to come back for the reunion, without realizing that Oliver is just as frustrated with his own life situation as Dan is. These two need each other far more than either knows, but the truth is Oliver, who is far more honest with himself about his life, faces facts much sooner than Dan, which creates drama that feels much less beholden to plot points and conventional set-ups and veers towards something more melancholy and more reflective of real humanity.

And the real winner here is Black, a performer who seems to be enjoying a mid-career bump, now that he has jettisoned the broad crass humor that plagued his early box office pandering days. Black proves he is an honored member of what I like to call the sad clown brigade, comic actors like Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, and Bill Hader (a recent inductee after his marvelous turn in “The Skeleton Twins” with Wiig). It would have been easy for Black to keep stumbling along, doing his fried comedic riffing, akin to what Will Ferrell does in pursuit of the mythic big gag, but he has toned it all down recently, in movies like “Bernie” and “The Big Year,” focusing instead on breathing life and laughs into everyday characters who take audiences on more meaningful rides.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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