American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I really miss Bertrand Blier sometimes. “Who?” you might ask. French writer/director Blier’s movies aren’t much in fashion nowadays, but back in the ‘70s and ‘80s he was quite the American art house scandal. His movies, including “Going Places,” “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,” and “Too Beautiful For You,” were no-holds-barred sex comedies exposing both male brutality and male insecurity, which of course often go hand in hand. And they weren’t afraid of exploring the extreme and secretive edges of male sexuality. Take, for instance, 1974’s “Going Places,” in which Gerard Depardieu (whose movies with Blier helped make him a star) and Patrick Dewaere play a couple of dirtbags roaming the French countryside trying to get into the pants of pretty much every woman they encounter (including a nun). There’s a scene in the movie in which the pair find themselves bereft of the company of women, and Depardieu’s character just rapes Dewaere’s. Aiiieee, right? Only in Blier’s hands, the whole thing is kind of revelatory.
I thought of Blier while watching “The D Train,” in which male sexuality, brutality, and insecurity are all subjected to scrutiny. Not with dry humor and merciless precision but the worst indie-film conventions concerning nerdiness, and butter tubs of sentimentality. The movie goes for grin-and-cringe-inducing, and instead achieves “excruciating.” Jack Black plays Dan Landsman (the title, incidentally, alludes to the character’s compulsive, annoying attempts at assigning himself an appropriately bro-ish nickname) a suburbanite who’s such an annoying and tetchy component of his high school’s reunion committee that one understands when his fellow sad-sacks neglect to invite him out for beers after a typically dispiriting session of trying to drum up alumni enthusiasm. So it’s a little surprising, really, when after these rejections he returns home to his attractive, attentive wife and two kids, one an infant, the other a slightly withdrawn teen boy. Already the character components are failing to line up convincingly, which always suggests a new agenda is brewing.
This comes up when Dan sees a former classmate, Oliver Lawless, in a cheesy sunscreen commercial on TV. Dan is immediately obsessed—someone of his high school tribe has “made it”—and concocts a very hare-brained scheme to attract the gone-Hollywood Lawless to the reunion. Said scheme involves concocting a fraudulent business deal in L.A., and the plot thickens when Dan’s genial but clueless boss (Jeffrey Tambor) insists on going on the trip.
In L.A., the meetup with Oliver goes FAR better than expected. Dan and the indolent, unshaven hunk, played by James Marsden, catch up over not just drinks but cocaine and muscle relaxants. “You’re gay?” Dan asks, after experiencing some conversational confusion over Oliver’s preferences. “I’m not into labels,” Oliver drawls. Hollywood, man. Right?
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