Sunday, October 4, 2015

"The D Train": Jack Black Ruins Cinematic Progress

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

To me, The D Train represents a turning point in American cinema.  This is a film that treats non-heterosexuality as casual and it is not the emphasis of the film’s dramatic underpinnings.  The fact the film does so and received little notice upon its nationwide theatrical release is also indicative of how we as a nation don’t even bother to make a big deal out of major actors portraying homosexual activity anymore.  This is a great thing, and I’m glad that this film can represent this important step.  I just wish the film were better so that the casual progress would feel grander.

Dan Landsman (Jack Black) is the self-proclaimed leader of his twenty year high school reunion committee.  In a mad effort to attract more people to the party, he decides to track down and convince the coolest guy from high school, a television commercial actor named Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), to come to the event.  After tricking his boss into thinking that a potential business deal exists in Los Angeles in order to pay for the trip, Dan meets up with Oliver, has a wild night of carousing and shenanigans, and ultimately, in an impassioned response to Oliver saying yes to coming to the reunion, ends up having sex with the guy.  The remainder of the film revolves around Dan dealing with his lack of closure, as he isn’t a believer in one night stands.

What’s really nice about this film is that the sex of its characters is entirely incidental.  Oliver’s bisexuality is brought up casually in order to establish it, and then is never used to make his character into a clich√© or stereotype.  Dan, on the other hand, is written not to believe that he might be gay after his homosexual encounter, but to deal with the fact that a one-night stand is an okay thing and that sex doesn’t require emotional attachment.  Dan doesn’t try to hide Oliver’s sexuality from his wife; he only wants to hide his lapse in fidelity.  There is a refreshing casualness to the whole proceeding that I think films less than a decade ago wouldn’t have mustered, and many larger studio films would likely still struggle with.

However, despite this milestone, The D Train isn’t a great film.  It bills itself as a dark comedy, but like many dark comedies it has a distinct problem of keeping a consistent tone.  There are a few laughs to be had, but when the film decides to go serious, it abandons its lighter-hearted nature in favor of hard-hitting moralism.  But even absent the tonal shifts, many scenes might have worked better if it weren’t for the miscasting of Jack Black in the lead role.  Black has a flair for goofball comedic antics, and while he is no stranger to drama, he’s never quite gotten the hang of being taken seriously.  Dan is a tricky enough character to portray, given the line he must walk between being silly and tragic, but this is only further complicated by Black’s inability to exude anything but over-the-top lunacy.  I don’t mean to paint Jack Black as the only reason the film doesn’t really work, but he is probably the biggest factor.

Ultimately, The D Train is right on the line between being passable or being a dud.  I’m more inclined to call this one a dud, but I can definitely see how some folks would enjoy this film more than I did.  The casual nature of its non-heteronormativity may make this required viewing for those who have followed the social progress of the LGB community.  But as a film, I just don’t think it quite pushes over my threshold for liking it.

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