DIR: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul • WRI: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel • PRO: David Bernad, Jack Black, Ben Latham-Jones, Priyanka Mattoo, Barnaby Thompson, Mike White • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Terel Gibson • MUS: Andrew Dost • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor
Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black returns to the big screen in his latest black comedy drama from Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, making their directorial debut in The D Train. Also co-written by the directors, the film, shot in a mere three weeks, sees the all-round entertainer undertake his first major film role, guest appearances and television roles aside, since the ploddingly laborious and commercial disappointment, The Big Year in 2011.
Black plays socially awkward Dan Landsman, the self-appointed chairman of his former high school’s alumni, who charges himself with the organisation of his class’s twentieth reunion. Scarred by his traumatic high school experience, Landsman is determined to ensure as many former students attend to bolster his popularity and finally garner the acceptance he craves. When the reunion fails to ignite much interest, Landsman travels to Los Angeles to convince his popular classmate, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a seemingly successful commercials actor, to attend the reunion but quickly resorts to shockingly extreme measures to bring a reluctant Lawless home, with disastrous consequences.
Fusing Hollywood black comedy conventions with latter day morality play allegories, The D Train is an idealistic and cautionary tale about the perception of success in contemporary America and the exceptional circumstances undertaken to achieve such an ideal. Lurking beneath the caustic wit, boundless hyperactivity and pretentious energy synonymous with Black’s characters and the crude and provocative content aligned with dark comedy, the film explicitly explores the nature of the human condition and poses profound philosophical questions about the perils of placing emphasis on self-gratification as a means to success, regardless of the overall consequences. Analysing the nature of greed and desire for self-satisfaction, popularity and acceptance, the film holds a mirror aloft to a contemporary society to ponder on the nature of desire, lust and obsession and the lack of evident moral or spiritual boundaries prevalent in humanity’s desire for pleasure. As unpleasant and cringeworthy a character Dan Landsman is, he is a universal character nonetheless.
Creating wholly rapacious and self-indulgent personas, Black and Marsden illuminate an otherwise blunt and hasty script from the directors with immense pathos and impeccable comedy timing. As different as both characters are similar, the on-screen chemistry between the two actors creates a convincingly candid and affecting ‘bromance’ which refreshingly explores the nature of sexual identity by embracing both dark comedy and romantic elements that simultaneously jolt and engage. Forever on the outside looking in and scarred by continual rejections, unpopular Black oscillates from smug egotism to wounded sensitivity with ease, mirrored by drug-addled, sexually-charged narcissist Marsden, whose steely suaveness and bottomless bravado crumbles to affecting disappointment and palpable insecurity, creating a plausible and sensitive relationship that should be uncomfortable, disruptive and employed for cheap thrills but instead poignantly points to the nature of obsession and desire and the determination to satisfy the self by any means possible.
While the two male lead performances create a magnetic portraiture that traverse the seven deadly sins, igniting the narrative on a both a dark comedic and philosophical level, Mogel and Paul’s tepid script ultimately falls short on becoming a true black comedy classic. The introduction of too many ill-conceived sub-plots fails to enhance or execute the essential tenets of the narrative, only serving to detract and distract from the film’s overall philosophy, lacking the sharp, subversive edge required for black comedy. The film, at times, is too self-righteous, didactic and patronising, blinded by its own perceived importance and attempts by Black to compensate for lulls and digressions in the script’s trajectory through routine acerbic witticisms and exaggerated physicality, fail to penetrate the evident inexperience and indirection of the film’s directors.
The D Train cannot claim to contain a highly original or imaginative narrative, although an unexpected plot twist will enthral, but rather the film incorporates an archetypal morality tale that has been recounted by Hollywood on numerous occasions. The outstanding performances from Black and Marsden may take an old fable and repackage it for the contemporary dark comedy genre with impeccable comedic delivery and cocksure swagger but the reluctance of the writers/directors to venture beyond the traditional, ideological Hollywood ending is at odds with the nature of black comedy itself and ultimately disappoints. The D Train, in actuality, is noteworthy for its consummate leading performances, Black in particular returns to top form after a four-year hiatus in a leading film role and it is his emotive and energetic turn that steers the narrative’s core philosophy, delineating the antagonism between an unresolved past and a disordered present bound together by a will to self-satisfy, exploit and indulge, rather than any creative or philosophical management by the film’s inexperienced, first-time directors.
15A(See IFCO for details)
The D Train is released 18th September 2015