Friendship banishes dread, fear, and loneliness for a while, and gives meaning to life. Not a great deal of things happen, when we laugh with our friend, or listen deeply to each other or share magic moments, and yet we know that inner changes are taking place. Films about friendship and its choices are very few and far. They are totally different from action drams and romantic comedies, since they normally depend on little details that open up new aspects of possibilities in the characters. Thomas McCarthy's "The Station Agent" (2003) is one of those rare and best slice-of-life movie about friendship. This US indie cinema is a sprawling comedy of manners that ignores the temptations of cheap melodrama. First time writer/director Tom McCarthy, who has made this movie in a shoestring budget, gives us a brilliant tale about three diverse misplaced persons.
Have you ever seen a pathetic, low-budget nightmare sequence in a movie with ominous dwarfs and giants? In the cinematic medium, giant people and dwarfs conventionally signify freakishness -- they're proof that nature can go inexplicable awry -- even though, on the inside, they are normal like any person. 'The Station Agent' has a dwarf as its protagonist, who breaks the mold as a dwarf and discovers that its OK to be an outsider as long as you have a few friends to get you by.
PlotFinbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), the central character, is a train loving loner who works at an old-fashioned model-train store. At the start, we observe Fin moving though his day and watch the people who pass him register astonishment: some whisper to each other in a subtle manner; some holler at him, like the kids who say, "Hey, where's Snow White?" Fin ignores the stares and disheartening taunts. When Fin's Co-owner (Paul Benjamin) drops dead, he's out of work, but luckily the old man, in his will, leaves him half an acre in rural Newfoundland, New Jersey.
The little piece of land includes an abandoned train depot. There is no electricity and phone, and there is only a couch to sleep on, how ever Fin finds it perfect for his isolation. But, solitude is hard to be found even in this small town, especially as the enthusiastic, chatty, hot-dog vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale) parks his hot-dog truck next to the depot. Joe takes care his ailing father and keeps talking with Fin no matter how often he's rebuffed.
Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a unhappy, highly-strung artist and regular customer of the hot-dog stand, almost runs Fin over in her SUV, twice. The film then follows the trio's prickly paths, and when these newly formed bonds are tested, Fin finally opens his eyes to a broader view of the world and gets emotionally entangled.
AnalysisTo command such a light and wild-eyed performance would be tough job for any actor, but, Peter Dinklage, with his brooding presence and perfectly deep voice inspires constant interest in the viewer. Dinklage's Fin is enigmatic, shuns sentiment and is never scared of size jokes. Whenever the film turn in favor of cutesy there's Dinklage to return it to the deadpan humorous pose that emits its genuine grace. Patricia Clarkson as Olivia performs a masterly balancing act of hysterical spun with comical finesse, supported by deep sorrow. Cannavale is an absolute joy and his Joe is a life force of the film, whether on the phone with his ailing father or spontaneously playing with neighborhood kids. Michelle Williams as Emily, the local librarian, bestows her understated sweetness to the part of a girl who confides in Fin.
The actor Thomas McCarthy, in his first directorial venture captures the desolation of a town and a sensitive portrait of humanity. McCarthy defies from making his characters so weird that they lose their humanity. His screenplay is intelligent, well-designed and discreet. The script has quite a knack for making the mannerisms and eccentricities of these three characters endearing. The Cinematography and the musical score complement the story as we follow the various characters and their eventual attachments to one another.
Three isolated persons destined to break the bonds of loneliness. It is not hard to recognize where the story is heading from there, but McCarthy has made their ultimate connection, not as mawkish as one might fear. At times, the movie seems little quaint, however there is definite nobility in its proceedings and unquestionably towers above many movies of Hollywood mainstream. Ultimately, it's the movie's thoughts that counts: the idea that no one should be judged on appearances.
Watch "The Station Agent" because its characters are engaging, its countryside is delightful, and its theme is uplifting.
The Station Agent - IMDb