When Bad Bromance (under its original title, The D-Train) first debuted at film festivals, it was met with surprise largely for a single scene, which it appears no one watching was expecting. Indeed, it is perhaps the playing down of that scene that’s contributed to the film making little impact.
Jack Black plays Dan, who’s living a dead-end life in the same town he grew up in. He has no real friends – people actively avoid hanging out with him – and very little to get excited about. He is however the chair of the 20th Anniversary High School reunion committee, but he’s having difficulty getting anyone to attend.
Then he hits on an idea – talking Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) into coming. Oliver left the town behind for LA and now stars in a national TV commercial. Dan is convinced getting him to attend would ensure plenty of others would also turn up. To put his plan into action, Dan concocts a fake business trip to Los Angeles to woo Oliver.
While Oliver is initially reluctant, in the end things go a bit too well, as after a drunken night out Oliver doesn’t just agree to go to the reunion, but they also end up sleeping together. Dan has no idea what to think about this sexual liaison as he’s always been straight and also has a wife and child at home. As a result, he starts wondering whether he wants Oliver to return home at all.
As you might have guessed, it’s the brief snogging and sex scene between Black and Marsden that got people talking. However, after the festival interest that aspect of the movie was largely hidden away from the marketing of the film, resulting in some very negative reactions from those who weren’t expecting it and felt they were being sold something different to what it was. To be honest, it shouldn’t make any difference unless you’re a bit of a homophobe, but seeing as it is a very central aspect of the movie, not mentioning it does feel like something’s being deliberately withheld.
It probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it was easier to tell whether it’s a stunt or not. While it is important to the second half of the movie, Bad Bromance never quite works out how to deal with Oliver and Dan’s one-night stand. It hints at ideas of it just being Dan getting carried away while drunk or that there’s an aspect of his desperation to have friends and fit in that enjoyed the affirmation, but they are never more than hints.
Ultimately the film seems utterly confused about what’s going on or even if it matters, which leaves the sneaking suspicion that someone had the idea of the gay sex scene as a ‘talking point’ but never fully worked out what to do with it beyond that. There’s also the whiff of using same sex activity for shock value and hoping to use the ‘comedy’ of gay panic, which you’d hope we were moving past.
A lot of the issues around this might have been ironed out if someone else was playing Dan Jack Black never seems comfortable in the role, and while it’s key that we should think he’s downtrodden and a bit of a victim of his own life, in Black’s hand you can perfectly understand why everyone thinks Dan is a tool, because he is. Indeed, it’s tough to understand not just why Oliver would sleep with him (beyond some vague hints about Dan massaging his ego), but also how he got a wife in the first place, as being around him would quickly become insufferable. I can’t help but think there are a lot of actors who could have pulled it off and the result would have been a more satisfying experience, but there’s an edge of arrogance to Black’s performance that undermines it.
Marsden is good though. In fact, Marsden is good in most things and is a very talented comic actor. I almost wonder whether that’s his very odd curse, that he’s best in comedies, but too classically handsome for the typical everyman comedy lead roles. However, he’s not given a massive amount to work with, but it just goes to show how lopsided the movie is when his character – who seduces a married man, brings a one-night-stand back to a house he’s a guest in and encourages a 14-year-old to have a threesome – is more sympathetic and likeable than Black’s character.
Overall Verdict: While it has its moment, an inability to work out how to deal with the fact the two main characters have slept together, and a severely miscast Jack Black mean Bad Bromance doesn’t quite work.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac