PLOT: Dan (Jack Black) is a small-town guy planning his high school’s twentieth anniversary reunion. Wanting to endear himself to his former classmates, he takes a trip to L.A to track down the school’s most popular alumni (James Marsden) who he hopes to convince to come to the reunion. The two hit it off, and soon a wild night of partying takes an unexpected turn.
REVIEW: THE D TRAIN is one of those Sundance titles where the less you know about it going in the more you’re bound to enjoy it. There’s a twist that totally distinguishes THE D TRAIN from being just another Sundance indie comedy and justifies its entry into the U.S Narrative Competition – similar to last year’s THE SKELETON TWINS. In many ways, this feels like it could be a companion film to that as they share a similar aesthetic, which is retro-eighties mixed with modern alienation. But the biggest similarity is that it takes popular comic performers and put them in roles that on the surface feels like typecasting, but winds up being a lot more nuanced.
THE D TRAIN is a really strong vehicle for Jack Black, whose manic persona (on film) can grate as much as it entertains, but here is ideally utilized. In it, he’s a bored small-town guy who ignores his wife (Kathryn Hahn – solid in a largely dramatic part) and teen-aged son, and dreams of proving to everyone how cool he thinks he can be. Not a huge stretch, but effective. James Marsden also plays to-type as the dreamy popular guy, living the life of a struggling actor in L.A, sleeping with as many people as he can, and reveling in Dan’s attention, as he clearly craves the adulation he once took for granted in high school. Naturally, Dan’s a willing victim, allowing himself to be impressed by a fake friendship with Dermot Mulroney (a cameo as a douchy version of himself) and getting way carried away on the coke and booze that comes with his new pal’s crazy lifestyle.
Up until about midway through, THE D TRAIN is a fairly conventional buddy vehicle for Black and Marsden, but an intriguing twist half way through leads to a really impressive second half, where Marsden turns Black’s life upside down back home, that pays off in a really unique, heartfelt way.
It’s certainly an impressive debut for co-directors/writers Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel. It’s slick and well-produced, with a cool visual style, an awesome soundtrack jam-packed with eighties tunes (from OMD to Mr. Mister), and enough skill that the leaps from comedy to dramedy to straight-up drama work well. While it’s definitely Black and Marsden’s show, Kathryn Hahn and especially Jeffrey Tambor as Black’s nice-guy boss ground the film throughout and give it a lot of heart.
With IFC having just picked up THE D TRAIN, chances are audiences will get a chance to see it sooner rather than later, but hopefully the trailers won’t spoil the big twist which makes the movie so effective and different. It’s a really solid, heartfelt comedy and one that deserves to find a big audience.