Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), a 4-foot-5-inch adult dwarf, walks into
a convenience store to buy some milk. "Excuse me," he suddenly hears
from behind him. When Fin turns, the cashier has her disposable camera
in hand, ready to snap a picture of him. In return, he sort of smirks
and nods, thinking to himself that he isn't the one who is the freak.
Fin is used to s uch reactions, and he has more or less accepted his
lot in life, even if he isn't particularly happy with it. The unpredictable
and keen observations within this scene speak more than words in "The
Station Agent," a magical slice-of-life whose small-scale nature is
part of its effervescent charm.
Fin, a train aficionado and model builder, is suddenly without a friend
and a job when his best buddy and co-worker (Paul Benjamin) suddenly
dies. In his will, however, he has left Fin with the property of a
closed-down train depot in the sleepy town of Newfoundland, New Jersey.
Fin has soon made the depot his home, and makes two unlikely friends:
Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale), a friendly vendor whose truck is set
up across the street, and Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), a lonely
woman looking for a reason to live following the death of her only child.
The relationship between Fin, Joe, and Olivia is one of the most lovely
caught on film this year. It is an unlikely one a t first glance,
but then their connection gathers focus as it becomes apparent that
what each one needs, the other two can provide. In the way that Joe
yearns to befriend Fin, continuing to wear him down until Fin can't
help but like him, and in the way that Olivia works herself into their
duo out of equal helpings of chance and fate, these three completely
original, beautifully realized characters share a friendship that
is real, honest, and filled with subtle warmth.
As Fin, Joe, and Olivia while away their days walking the train tracks,
taking in the woodsy scenery, and barbecuing chicken, two more people
enter into Fin's life. Emily (Michelle Williams) is a cute librarian
with a crush on Fin from the moment he walks in to check out a book,
while curious 10-year-old Cleo (Raven Goodwin) finds herself smitten
by and relating to a grown man who is her height.
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, "The Station Agent" is an
inventive indie gem, undoubtedly modest in s cope but with a tender
heart, some wonderful performances, and quite a few big laughs. As
the introverted Fin, who has a difficult time trusting people until
he gets to know them, real-life dwarf Peter Dinklage delivers a star-making
performance. He commands the screen with introspective glances and
expressions and on-target body language, as opposed to a lot of dialogue.
It's quite an impressive first leading role. Patricia Clarkson (2002's
"Far From Heaven") is deeply affecting as the heartbroken Olivia,
an old-school artist who hasn't yet come to terms with her son's death.
And playing what is the film's best character, Bobby Cannavale (1999's
"The Bone Collector") tears up the screen with such compassion, energy,
and go-getter kindness that you just want to hug him. Cannavale's
Joe is the type of guy attracted to humans and their nature, p eriod.
Dedicated to his ailing father at home, Joe searches for a bond, for
another person with whom he can share an afternoon with or even a
quick beer, and he finds that person in Fin. The way that Joe doesn't
give up, keeps his smile, and continues to plug away at life, even
when Fin initially rejects him, is lovably realized. As a viewer,
you can't help but want Joe as a friend.
"The Station Agent" is simple from a narrative standpoint, but it
is perceptive in its views of human nature and has quite a lot more
to say than first meets the eye. In Fin, we do not have some stereotypical
dwarf hero who is made to look just too darn cute for words. Instead,
he becomes a living and breathing creation, a person whose size eventually
doesn't even fit into the equation anymore. When, near the end, a
fed-up Fin stands up in a bar and angrily tells the other staring
customers, "Here I am! Take a good luck!," we are startled to realize
his dwarfism has long since stopped being even a thought in our minds.
Following a slow-going opening 15 minutes, "The Station Agent" becomes
a grand entertainment, a genuinely sweet film that nonetheless avoids
sentiment and mawkish emotions. That the somewhat abrupt ending comes
as a disappointment less than 90 minutes after it had begun only goes
to show how infectious it is. It isn't that the film ends too soon,
or at the wrong spot; it's just that you aren't ready to say good-bye
to these characters and their lives.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman