The D Train came and went earlier this summer. It was a flop, not even making it to a million bucks at the box office. A lot of bad reviews too. But I watched it this weekend and kind of fell in love with its sloppy but gracious spirit, and also its low-key but still somehow jarring audacity. At first the whole thing feels like what it looks like, a rip-off of raunchy bromance comedies like Old School or all three of The Hangovers or I Love You Man and so on, a genre of movies that skates around the "gay issue" the way Saturday Night Live skits often do , using the guy-on-guy kiss as a gross-out bit, the punch-line to masculinity deflating itself, but still somehow the bros always survive as kindred spirits, not sexual partners.
Jack Black plays Daniel Landsman, a loser who seems to be constantly calculating how he can be with the in crowd, while the in crowd is constantly calculating how to escape him. He's heading up his 20 year high school reunion committee and no one wants to come. Then he accidentally sees Oliver Lawless, someone he went to school with, on TV in a sun-tan-lotion commercial, and suddenly it becomes his fervent mission to get Oliver to show at the reunion, thus transforming his own life into a triumph. At least in his head.
The setup sounds remarkably pedestrian, but the execution isn't. Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel co-wrote and direct The D Train with a sense of John-Hughes finesse, and that sort of whimsical sadness permeates just about every scene. And Black plays Daniel with that extrovert gumption with which he plays everything, but also shades Daniel's John-Candy-in-Planes-Trains-and-Automobiles neediness with kindness and even intelligence. James Marsden plays Oliver with a Keith-Richards kind of solipsism, but he does so with his own version of self loathing, in that he seems to instinctively understand that he's not ever going to be Keith Richards by any stretch of the imagination. Oliver, like Daniel, is a loser too, unable to make it in LA, and yet holding onto whatever hope he has left.
Cue the gut-busting partying-all-night montage next, a staple of all bromantic comedies. The D Train almost out-Hangovers the rest, going from drinks to muscle-relaxers to cocaine to mechanical-bull-riding to club after club after club, culminating in a scene that often seems like should be there in other flicks, but isn't because it is not the territory of these kinds of movies: Oliver and Daniel kiss and then go to bed together after their frenzied all-nighter.
It's funny and it's not.
But it's sweet somehow when they do the nasty, and the fall-out from it, while kind of funny and kind of not as well, has a melancholy soberness to it, so that the rest of the movie after their hookup is tinged with jealousy and hurt. Some real feelings cut through, until by the end of The D Train you start to feel connected to Daniel and Oliver in a way that transcends their bromance. In other words, their relationship transforms pretty easily into a romance, clumsy and silly and kind of embarrassing, but thanks to Black and Marsden and the moviemakers, believable in ways that most romantic comedies, bro or otherwise, aren't.
The D Train busts through all kinds of genre roadblocks without really making a lot of noise. It may be a standout waiting to be rediscovered for what it actually is: a romantic comedy about two guys who aren't gay who somehow find a moment of (for lack of a better word) love big enough to make them feel a little disconnected from the rest of their sad-sack lives.