Released in the UK in 2004 The Station Agent met worldwide with much acclaim, but talk to someone about it and it’s a strange movie that seemingly has little purpose, everyone seems to love it but nobody really knows why.
Finbar Mcbride (Peter Dinklage) is a midget; his life is spent painting and repairing model train carriages in his friends Henry’s shop. His height causes ongoing problems abused daily by kids, and stared at by passersby. When Henry unexpectedly dies Fin is a main recipient from Henry’s estate, inheriting a disused railways station in a small New Jersey backwater called Newfoundland. With nothing to hold Fin in New Jersey itself he heads off to Newfoundland lured by the promise of Henry’s lawyer that Newfoundland is dead where nothing at all goes on. Fin’s dream of an isolated life is soon bought to a halt when he makes the acquaintance of Joe, Olivia, Cleo and Emily.
The Station Agent is one of those movies that is like a mirror to real life, for the average person life is essentially dull with the odd highlights. It’s those highlights, often unexpected that are the essence of The Station Agent’s magic. To describe the feeling the movie gives you would not be an unfair comparison to a lazy hot summers day in a park with friends, or drinking (not necessarily alcohol) outside in a bar or cafe, it’s a movie where time almost stands still but your having a wonderful time in the progress. I’d go as far as to say that The Station Agent is magical, a slow meandering piece of film making that will touch your heart.
Fin himself is quite a crotchety individual, conversations with Fin must be brief, why use a variety of words when a simple yes, no, or okay will suffice. Despite Fin’s desire to keep things brief he cannot help but gather attention, near the front of his new home sits Gorgeous Franks’ a mobile eatery temporarily ran by Joe (Bobby Cannavale) a young guy with a lot of love for the world, but a lot of time also, business in this quite backwater is essential but incredibly quiet. In Fin, Joe sees a way of filling his boredom, who is this small guy? Why is he living in a disused train station? And most importantly what lessons can be learned? It’s this strained friendship that forms the movies foundation, with all the other characters gathering round what seems like the Fin and Joe circus. Bobby Cannavale is an actor I’ve never paid much attention to, but as Joe he is a compelling and loveable character, and the sort that at some point we have all met, liked but remained an enigma to us.
Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) is a regular visitor to Gorgeous Franks, her daily visits to get coffee are the highlight to Joe’s day, but there is a barrier that cannot be penetrated. Olivia’s unexpected accidental near collisions with Fin cause her a great amount of guilt. It’s these collisions that for me provided the only laughs of the movie, like everything else in the film it’s unexpected but the sort of thing that really would happen in real life. Probably rather like you or I, if you twice almost ran over someone in the same day, let alone a midget, the chances are you might somehow feel indebted to the character and this is where the relationship between Fin, Joe and Olivia becomes solidified. This is a very different role for Clarkson, who often plays upright and stern characters, here while she has her serious moments, she is allowed to let go and really feel her character. Olivia is quirkier, kinder and more endearing than any of Clarkson’s previous roles, a real nut job you could say; but a life that is not without personal tragedy and it’s that personal tragedy that shapes her future.
The other two leading characters are Cleo (Raven Goodwin) a young girl confused over Fin’s height, and Emily (Michelle Williams) as the local librarian and potential love interest for one of the characters.
As Fin, Peter Dinklage delivers his best role, while a familiar face now days in movies like Death At A Funeral, and Penelope and the TV series Game Of Thrones, this was the movie that put this short actor on the map. I’d be surprised is Dinklage did not have some involvement in the assembly of Thomas McCarthy’s movie because it seems a little too detailed on what life is like seeing the world from a different angle, attention to detail being of paramount importance. Forgetting the restricted height aspect of the character, Dinklage does a very good job of staying straight laced and almost infuriated by every event that goes on around him. Of course the movie is all about change, and it’s the change of Fin that provides the movies best moments.
While being a marvelous escape movie, The Station Agent has very little to it, there is no big deep underlining message other I guess than “live for the day” neither does anything of any significance happen. But rather like those beautiful sunny lazy days it warms your heart, and you really never want this to end. As the credits role you beg for a sequel, or maybe you’ll be compelled to look at the movie again in the near future.