Movie Reviews: “The D Train,” “Felix and Meira”

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I think I can speak for most moviegoers when I say that we’re tired of the bromance—the now-tiresome subgenre of American comedy popularized in the 2000s and predicated on platonic love between straight men. There are only so many times we can watch Paul Rudd and Jason Segel or Seth Rogan or Jonah Hill or James Franco or Christopher Mintz-Plasse or Will Ferrell or Mark Duplass share hugs and bong hits before deja vu kicks in. For all its faults, Jarrad Paul’s debut comedy “The D Train,” which opens in most theaters today, is a new kind of bromance, one that finally takes the genre to its logical extreme—sexual intercourse between two brotastic guys, or at least two guys pretending to be brotastic.

Jack Black plays Dan Landsman, a hapless square, professional pushover and married father of two, who works at an antiquated Philadelphia consulting firm and chairs his high school’s alumni committee by night. Desperate to be liked by his more sociable colleagues, he concocts a plan that is sure to win him kudos: To raise the committee’s woeful attendance for its forthcoming 20-year reunion, he’s going to convince their class’s most popular jock, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), an actor who recently landed a national ad campaign in Los Angeles, to appear at the reunion and lend it celebrity cachet.

Soon enough, Dan is on a plane to L.A., his clueless Luddite boss in tow (a winningly deadpan Jeffrey Tambor), to win over Oliver under the phony auspices of a business meeting. The events of Los Angeles are dramatic—Oliver, it turns out, is an insecure, bisexual cokehead—and the lies that follow compound like miles on a treadmill hurtling toward professional and personal disintegration.

As the reunion looms, there’s a raw, uncomfortable sensitivity in the way Paul films the interactions between the two men, with the memory of their coitus burrowing far deeper into Dan’s psyche than he’d prefer. This discomfort underscores the continuing laugh lines and makes “The D Train” an admirably progressive look at sexuality in the 21st century.

The more you think about it, though, the more nits become available to pick. Oliver’s surname “Lawless” is symptomatic of the film’s tendency for on-the-nose reductionism. Cliches, which are scant at first, pile up egregiously toward the end, when the credible reality Paul had built up collapses to accommodate his plot points. And even Tambor, who steals every scene as Dan’s technophobic boss (in an admittedly nice touch, there’s a 30-year-old Tab soda machine languishing in an office space the color of a ‘70s Buick), plays a character whose convenient naivety becomes too implausible to accept.

There’s even, finally, a dreaded “I learned something today”-style montage that feels shamefully tacked-on—a treacly, insincere coda to a mostly genuine button-pusher of a film.

 ***

The title characters in Maxime Giroux’s touching drama “Felix and Meira” don’t meet-cute, like many couples in the movies. They just meet because they’re both lonely, they both prowl the same haunt—a coffeehouse in their shared neighborhood in Quebec—and they share an affinity for art.

Other than that, their lives couldn’t be more different. Felix (Martin Dubreuil) is a single, borderline-depressed fortysomething who has just watched his estranged father pass away, the old man’s lifelong regrets remaining unexpressed. The orthodox Meira (Hadas Yaron) is stifled in a dour marriage to a Hasidic man, and yearns to break from her family’s religious prohibitions.

The movie is not, as this description suggests, a barrel of laughs. Its colors are the muted tones of lackluster lives, and at first, the film is demonstrably slow to the point of near-funerary proportions. But the more time you invest in “Felix and Meira,” the more it pays off, and the more its unhurried approach seems the only way to honor the gravity of a romance that buds amid insecurities and clandestine shame. When the courtship of modern-day Hollywood films consists of barroom glances that cut to romps in the sack, it’s pleasing to see a movie that regards patience as a sensual virtue.

“Felix and Meira” also deserves credit for respecting the third character in this triangle, Meira’s husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky). He’s the gatekeeper of her cloistered existence, but he’s never demonized. When Meira strays from their marriage, Giroux recognizes the costs of her self-actualization as well as its benefits. Shulem becomes the movie’s most tragic figure, and in its most touching scene, he finds himself missing the affectations that used to bother him, just like any partner who takes someone for granted until she’s gone. This film is heavy on literary metaphors and symbolism, some more obvious than others, but their potency is only as effective as these three subtle, subdued and altogether brilliant performances.