Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Station Agent Review

A lot of people are lonely, but that doesn't mean they have to be alone.

I can't quite put my finger on it. The Station Agent feels like a film that shouldn't work. It feels like the type of story that will end up being saccharine, a narrative pandering for a forced emotional response. It tells the story of a man named Fin afflicted with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage) with a passion for railroads who loses his only friend in the world. In the will he is left a property in rural New Jersey and on the land is an abandoned train station.

He leaves his world behind in order to occupy this land and live in this station, hoping for solitude. Hoping for peace and quiet, away from the mean spirited comments and looks regarding his appearance. Hoping to be left alone.

Soon after he arrives, he encounters a man named Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and a woman named Olivia (Patricia Clarkson). One clearly wants to befriend him, much to the chagrin of Fin. One very nearly literally runs him over twice while driving in the road. Not exactly what he had hoped for when he inherited a place seemingly perfect for the lonely who only mean to stay that way. 

What follows is a story of three people who really need someone to talk to and count on and they find it in each other. They all have their troubles, their pain, their stories, and the screenplay written by Thomas McCarthy (in his filmmaking debut) is absolutely top notch in its ability to be kind and gentle and honest and so damn real with the characters, who feel like actual people. 

McCarthy, who has redeemed himself for The Cobbler which, inexplicable, was the first of his work I had seen and I now forgive him, does nothing flashy with the craft of The Station Agent. He doesn't have to. This is a film with a pulse and its heart was beating through me the entire time as I cared deeply for the plight of these people and their simple but profound connection. 

When I said earlier that I couldn't quite put my finger on it, what I meant is how the hell McCarthy took what sounds like pure sap on paper and made me melt with its authenticity instead of roll my eyes. Not all credit should go to him though, because while his words came across like pure magic, they had to be delivered by talented people in order to completely sell it. Dinklage just naturally exudes an honesty to his pain and vulnerability, and even when he was keeping his poise and demeanor level when faced with mean spirited comments, you could see a hint of sadness behind his eyes. Cannavale is spot on for the role of an annoying neighbor but only because he could really use a friend, someone to walk with, someone to talk with. A part of me watching wanted to close the door on him just like Fin did early in the film, but the rest wanted to open it wider and let him in. Clarkson, who is always great, plays Olivia in a way that is very similar to Fin in that when she lets people in, it's begrudgingly rather than with enthusiasm. When they eat together she verbally declares that it's okay for them to enjoy the food without speaking, but it doesn't come across as rude. They seem like people who have little to say but are genuinely happy to have someone to sit next to.

A lot of people are lonely, but that doesn't mean they have to be alone. I was left with this thought after watching The Station Agent. Too often the concept of loneliness is tied directly to a lack of romance in life, and those that are afraid of rejection would rather hide in the shadows than open themselves up to be hurt. This is a picture that doesn't force in a perfectly happy everyone finds their soulmate and lives happily ever after type of ending. That's not what it is about. The Station Agent is about those people who try to leave the world behind them, but an open door or even a meal without talking can bust down their walls.


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