J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

D Train: It’s Not About Dontrelle Willis

There are two kinds of people—those who look forward and those who look back. Dan Landsman is definitely a rearview mirror kind of guy. As he gears up for his high school reunion, he will painfully illustrate why such a neurotic approach to life is so deeply unprofitable. Prepare to squirm when Landsman makes a last ditch effort for popularity twenty years after graduation in Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel’s D Train (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After college, Landsman stayed in the same Pittsburgh suburb, attending community college, taking an office job, and marrying the nicest girl from high school who would talk to him. At every meeting of the high school alumni committee, he offers up a textbook example of trying too hard. Smarting from the rejection he continues to invite, Landsman hatches an unlikely plan to convince Oliver Lawless to attend the reunion, so he can hopefully ride on his coattails of coolness.

Lawless was the sort of roguish popular kid everyone wanted to hang with. After graduation, he left for Hollywood, where he barely scrapes by on commercial work. However, Landsman and their fellow alumni see him as the embodiment of all their unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. Landsman will indeed trek out to California to woo Lawless, but the cover story he fabricates about a potential business meeting inconveniently blows up in his face when his technophobe boss, Bill Shurmur insists on accompanying him. Nevertheless, Landsman manages to meet-up with Lawless, but things get a little out of hand, with much awkwardness ensuing.

The good news is Lawless is coming to the reunion. The bad news is Lawless is coming to the reunion. Frankly, you may never see another film that so thoroughly confuses humiliation with humor. D Train is a truly a cringe fest. Anyone with a shred of empathy will be extremely uneasy watching Landsman’s degradation, but Paul & Mogel keep pouring it on. It gets to be punishing—for the viewer.

You have to give Jack Black credit for taking it and liking it. As Landsman, his desperate neediness is uncomfortably convincing. It makes you think he could do an entire postscript to Kevin Pollak’s Misery Loves Company by his lonesome. On the plus side, believe it or not, James Marsden turns some surprisingly nice moments as Lawless and it is always amusing to watch Jeffrey Tambor do his thing as Shurmur.

It is hard to judge D Train, because the cast always hits their marks and inhabit their characters pretty credibly. Eventually though, all the piling-on poor Jobish Landsman just makes you shake your head. This year, there were at least two films at Sundance that used Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” but Seoul Searching is exponentially more fun because it remembers both the good and the bad of high school (and Korean culture camp). Honestly, it is a real shame Paul and Mogel were apparently so unhappy during high school, but hopefully making this movie helped them work through some of their issues. An exhausting film, D Train will should bring out Jack Black fans nonetheless when it opens this Friday (5/8) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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