James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
THE D-TRAIN starring Jack Black and James Marsden is a polarizing film that combines comedic tropes and dark dramatic beats. We spoke with the co-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul about walking the tonal tightrope and developing characters that may not be likable.
THE D-TRAIN follows the head of a high school reunion committee (Jack Black) who travels to Los Angeles to find the most popular guy from high school (James Marsden) and convince him to attend the reunion.
The film making team have been working in comedy for a number of years working with studios writing scripts such as YES MAN and the animated television show ALAN GREGORY. This marks their directorial debut as a directing team and this is a film that will undoubtedly make people feel uncomfortable, but it’s a heart felt and hilarious movie made by two more than capable comedic minds.
The film has been on my radar since the Sundance premiere and I’ve tried to keep my knowledge of the premise to a minimal. I’ve since heard that the plot takes an unexpected turn (which we won’t reveal here), but would you want audience members to go into the film completely blind, or have some context provided?
Jarrad: “We love it when people get the opportunity to see it blind, which is obviously the best experience. It’s just so tough to have that experience because it’s been written about and publicized. I mean I think IFC has another trailer coming out today that teases that surprise.”
Andrew: “The important thing is it doesn’t ruin it because of the emotional weight. And the aftermath of the twist.”
Dan and Oliver have a certain amount of admiration for each other and I dare say…love?
Andrew: “I’m not sure that they love each other. To me they both help each other inadvertently while they are each on their own paths. They see similarities in each other, but they definitely don’t love each other.”
Jarrad: “I think you may have picked up on that because we hit these sometimes comedic tropes of a love story, or romantic comedy. These tropes are driven by Jack’s character fear of always being rejected.”
The character of Oliver Lawless exudes a surface level mythical type presence. What inspired this character?
Andrew: “This guy is the quintessential Los Angeles male. Now, of course not every guy is like this, but sometimes when you go out to an event you can’t ever tell who is an actor and who just some guy who is acting like he’s famous.”
I had trouble sympathizing for Dan, even though he is a lovable loser. Would Dan be the type of guy you could tolerate hanging out with in a social setting?
Both: “OH NO! I don’t think so at all!”
Jarrad: “Maybe the Dan we are left with at the end of the movie you could. He’s got some issues upfront. But, we come from a different mind-set that you don’t have to like the your characters.”
Andrew: “Yeah, that’s the thing you always hear, you have to push to make your characters likable and I have no problem watching a character do unlikable things.”
The film had me riding a roller coaster of emotions that changed several different times during the film, maybe that’s because the narrative felt real. At its core what is the best way to describe THE D-TRAIN?
Jarrad: “We always liked that there was both comedy and drama in this project. We talked early on about films like FARGO and THE INFORMANT. Any John Hughes movies especially THE BREAKFAST CLUB because the elements balance each other in really interesting ways. And to us it’s about combining everything into themes of panic, rejection and desperation that takes the script to some dark places.”
Andrew: “But, in the end it always made us laugh.”
You guys have worked both sides of the industry with studio and independent films. What struggles come with each side?
Jarrad: “We were writing lots of studio comedies and sometimes they just sit in development for years and they want a certain kind of thing. But, with the independent stuff there is no money and it’s hard to find time to do ANYTHING. The shooting schedules are really difficult. I believe it we had 21 days to make this film and lining that up with all the actor’s schedules is difficult.”
Andrew: “As you know, you’re not a free creatively. Like we were saying with the likability stuff we would not have that type of freedom in the studio system.”
What do you guys have coming up next?
Jarrad: “We did a pilot for FOX, we will find out this week if they are going forward with the project.”
Andrew: “On the features side we are doing a film with Jonah Hill about this guy who found a video poker bug in Las Vegas. It’s a story we found out of WIRED magazine.”
THE D-TRAIN is now playing nationwide.