Love them or hate them, the high school years leave their mark. A veritable cottage industry across virtually every art form exists containing stories of men and women remembering the glory days, for better or worse.
“The D Train” takes this recognizable milieu and injects it with a degree of cheery strangeness that sets it apart.
The film is not a comedy, really, or a drama, for that matter, but a film that reflects in its very marrow the inexplicable hold that those four years maintain over some people.
The film stars Jack Black as Dan Landsman, a family man and committed member of his high school reunion committee who takes it upon himself to travel to Los Angeles and secure the RSVP of fellow graduate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now the star of a sunscreen commercial.
Black’s Landsman is another of the star’s characteristic oddballs, a man so consumed by dreams of being a big shot that he worms his way into Oliver’s life. He’s the sort of individual that Black has previously mastered in movies like Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” an everyman with a placid surface concealing a tumultuous inner life.
Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, the writers and directors, cleverly reconstitute the coming-of-age template, pushing the suspended adolescence of both characters toward a logical extreme.
The movie is a black comedy of humiliation on one level, with a story that reaffirms Dan’s place in a social hierarchy that has not changed much since his high school days.
In other hands, the obsession, characterized by frequent shots of Black staring at Marsden with intense longing, would just be creepy. These filmmakers and their star clearly understand the protagonist, though, and the movie evokes considerably empathy in the sad nature of his desperation.
It smartly reveals the ways nostalgia-tinged desperation can keep us from seeing what’s truly important.