The Station Agent (2003)
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
The Station Agent follows Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) a dwarf who has learned to deal with society’s treatment of him by shutting them out. When the movie opens, his only friend and fellow train-obsessive Henry (Paul Benjamin) dies, leaving Fin in his will a small piece of property in sleepy Newfoundland, New Jersey. Finding the idea of isolation appealing, Fin decides to move to this old station agent’s office to live a quiet life away from the gawking eyes of the world.
When he gets there, his plans are interrupted by Joe (Bobby Cannavale), who operates a snack truck outside of Fin’s new place, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a recently separated grieving mother who has two embarrassing run-ins (or, near run-ins as it were) with Fin, Cleo (Raven Goodwin), a curious child who takes to following Fin on his daily walks along abandoned train tracks, and Emily (Michelle Williams), a local librarian who sees Fin as a potential confidant. Each draws Fin out of his shell, showing him there’s more to the world than jerks who see him as a Snow White extra.
The movie is certainly charming, a quiet film about the value of friendship and the lesson of not judging a book by its cover (as the world does of Fin, and Fin does the world). Of course, “quiet” is often a synonym for “boring”, and the movie definitely straddles the fence between the two. It requires a bit of patience at the beginning, while establishing Fin’s attitude of disinterest with the rest of the world, while he strives for the isolation he craves. Luckily, Cannavale’s irrepressible Joe pulls the movie out of its funk as he begins to pull Fin out of his. Joe loves to talk (loooooooooves to talk), but his isolated job at the roadside coffee shop rarely affords that opportunity. So when Fin shows up, he snatches up the chance to chat, no matter how much Fin tries to avoid it. Joe is immediately likable, whereas Fin starts to look like a bit of a jerk in contrast.
Luckily, the movie begins to warm Fin up just as he threatens to whittle away our last ounce of sympathy. It’s a slow process that ultimately proves rewarding, but it’s possible that first-time director Thomas McCarthy may take a little too long developing the relationships between characters. Nothing much happens throughout the movie, as it is about characters and relationships, so there are no plot developments to drive the early portions of the movie. As a result, it may not have been the best decision to stall the relationship developments as long as it does.
However, once the relationships between the cast of misfits starts to develop, the movie becomes rather delightful. When Fin finally relents to the constant chatter of Joe, and the apologies of Olivia, it is truly a revelation, making him a character we want to see more of. These characters are interesting not for their quirks, but instead for how ordinary they are, which is a lesson for a lot of small indies, who often give us collections of quirks in the place of characters. These are regular people dealing with regular lives, instantly relatable even if our lives don’t exactly reflect theirs.
The acting is uniformly excellent throughout. Dinklage makes Fin an interesting character throughout, even in the beginning when he isn’t particularly engaging. Cannavale breathes life into the movie, ensuring it doesn’t succumb to the weight of the sadness of Fin and Olivia. Clarkson is fantastic as Olivia, portraying equal measures of warmth and deep sadness. Williams delivers charm in her small role, making me wish her character had more time to develop.
However, just when we are completely hooked into these characters and their stories, getting past the slow beginning to truly wanting to visit with them longer, the film abruptly ends. It’s not a terrible ending, but one leaving me a bit disappointed, wishing less time had been spent at the beginning so more could be spent at the end.
There’s a lot to like about The Station Agent, and if it sounds interesting to you then it probably will be. However, it is certainly a flawed film that at times can be dull and is a little disappointing in the end. A worthwhile movie with its charms that I can’t help but wish could’ve been better.