Going by the trailer (conveniently located at the bottom of this page), The D Train is a comedy about a middle-aged man named Dan (Jack Black) who really cares about his high school reunion. At a loss for how to get his former classmates to attend the reunion, Dan becomes positively giddy when he sees his class’ most popular guy, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a national TV commercial one night. Dan’s sudden idea: convince Oliver to attend, and once word gets out that the most popular alum (and new celebrity) is coming, everyone else will be dying to attend as well. All he has to do is apparently fake a business trip to Los Angeles, connect with Oliver and…party. Whatever happens in Los Angeles apparently messes with Dan’s mind, though.
What happens in Los Angeles is actually a big deal, and it’s worth discussing; at the same time, if you’re spoiler-averse, please be warned that it’s a big freakin’ spoiler, so I’m going to tag the next section. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to be spoiled.
They fuck. More specifically, Oliver fucks Dan. The scene isn’t played for long, but it’s explicit enough to make clear what happens. For Oliver, who acknowledges earlier that he sleeps with men and women (and doesn’t like labels, for the record), it’s not a big deal, but for the happily married Dan, it throws his entire life into question. It’s not that he suddenly assumes he’s gay, but he has trouble believing he had a meaningless one-night stand – one that happens with Oliver. The rest of the film ends up focusing on Dan’s attempts to prove that his night with Oliver wasn’t meaningless. It’s an interesting direction to take a film, especially based on the first part of the movie that the trailer (understandably) focuses on.
The twist is something that’s pretty daring for a film with stars as big as Black and Marsden, and it’s something I don’t think could have happened even five years ago. What’s refreshing is how earnestly the film treats the subject, especially in the midst of a typically broad performance from Black. Prior to the twist, the film sets up a scenario where Oliver agrees to pose as a CEO to help Dan’s fake business trip appear real to Dan’s boss, which also gives the not-so-successful Oliver a chance to prove he can actually act. In a more standard-issue film, this would be the plot device dominating the rest of the film.
That it’s not is rather impressive. It might be more impressive with someone other than Black in the lead role, though. Dan is not an easy role to play, and while Black does an admirable job with the material, his years of establishing a very specific on-screen persona creeps into his performance. Marsden, who gets an easier role, manages to shine in a way few of his other performances have allowed. His ability to subtly show Oliver’s insecurities underneath his cool exterior is remarkable.
The film also suffers from an inability to come up with an answer to the questions that drive the film: what does Dan actually want, and what does Oliver mean to him? The fact that Oliver and Dan aren’t a joke is commendable, but the film fails to go beyond that. Ultimately, The D Train is a bit messy in some regards, but it gets points for delivering something unexpected.