Overview: A small town, social misfit recruits a former high school classmate, now an out of work actor struggling in Hollywood, to attend their twentieth year high school reunion, with disastrous results. 2015; Ealing Studios; Rated R; 97 minutes.
Self-Image: Jack Black plays Dan “The D Train” Landsman in screenwriters Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel’s directorial debut. Dan is a small town high school alumni committee chairman, whose self-image has become inflated in the interceding years since graduation. While Dan believes himself to have been an exceedingly popular, well liked, and well-known alumnus, the reality of his social life tells a different story altogether. Like some of Black’s other great comedic roles, Dan in The D Train is hapless in his inability to connect and form lasting relationships within his immediate social circles; his thankless job at a local insurance agency belies the sort of alienation and depressive tone, mood, and atmosphere that informs School of Rock’s levity raging against existential turmoil. In The D Train, however, that same atmosphere is lent a more somber approach, as Dan “The D Train” Landsman represents a tragic case of missed potential and squandered opportunity.
Delusions of Grandeur: After seeing Oliver Lawless, a former classmate and social Adonis, on a national Banana Boat ad campaign, Dan begins to nurse a fantasy wherein his recruitment of Lawless to come to the impending reunion will be met with praise and celebration of his own character and person. Stemming from the delusions of grandeur fostered by social media platforms, Dan very quickly assumes an intimacy with Lawless that is entirely one-sided, on both sides of the equation. For Dan, his courtship of Lawless is proof of his own need to appear cool to other people made unequivocal; for Lawless, his emotional manipulation of Dan’s sense of self-hood serves as a much needed source of personal and professional encouragement. The relationship between “The D Train” and Lawless becomes one of imagined connections and a superimposed intimacy, albeit one that results in a physical encounter that becomes hard to rationalize in the context of the light of day. The artifice of Dan’s various social media avatars serve to drive the film’s satire, while simultaneously resulting in the script’s penultimate tragedy, Dan’s sense of self encroached upon by self-inflicted disillusionment and unilateral abuse at the hands of his social construction made real.
Assumed Identity: In The D Train, Black’s character is allowed to assume an entirely fabricated identity that is lent credence by social media, a medium that inherently trades in duplicity applied to the social leveraging of a shared public image of the self. “The D Train” may be a self-applied moniker, but the ethos of cool that it implies is given reality online, where lies become facts, and the designation between the two becomes blurred in a haze of self-involvement. In Paul and Mogel’s script, the character study of Dan “The D Train” Landsman is one that proves universal, the film an uncompromising study of the pitfalls of social media on self-esteem, and the attendant distortions of social dynamics that occur as a result. While the film is often far too broad in the service of its comedy, the psychology of its individual characters is all too real, unforgiving where a studio film would be afraid to tell the truth, and delivered with conviction from a comic actor only just beginning to enter his second act, Black’s prowess as a performer only just now beginning to fully ascend into peak form.
Overall: Subtlety abounds in Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel’s directorial debut black comedy, even if The D Train is at times stifled by its structural rigidity to its adapted genre.