The Station Agent

The Station Agent won the Audience Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and wholly deserves this and any other accolades people will place on it. It is a wonderful human comedy about three very different people and the friendship that develops between them. What really distinguishes The Station Agent from other films is that the main character is a dwarf. Unfortunately, more often than not, when a dwarf is cast in a film the role is usually for comic relief. The Station Agent humanizes the character of Finbar McBride, who really likes trains and happens to be a dwarf. Peter Dinklage (Just a Kiss, Human Nature) gives a wonderful performance as Fin, a guy who just wants to be left alone. Years of people mocking his height have led to a hard outer emotional shell. He is polite but quiet, and seems to be uncomfortable around people.

A friend dies and bequeaths an abandoned train station in Newfoundland, New Jersey to Fin who decides to live there. He immediately meets Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale, The Guru, Washington Heights) who drives the local roach coach. Joe could not be any more different from Fin. He has verbal diarrhea and wants to know everything that Fin is doing, will do, and wants to do it with Fin. He hounds Fin non-stop, like a puppy with attention-deficit disorder. Fin then meets (hilariously, by the way) Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson, All the Real Girls, The Safety of Objects), estranged from her husband and still mourning the death of their son. Although they don't immediately realize it, they are all somehow estranged from the world. For Fin, this is physical. Joe doesn't know anybody in the area because he is filling in for his sick father, and Olivia is retreating into her own world.

What makes The Station Agent such a good film to watch is how writer/director Thomas McCarthy created these characters. He previously worked with the actors in various stage productions, so he was able to write the characters specifically for each actor, drawing upon their strengths. The Fin character is so sympathetic because one can sympathize with everything he goes through. He wants to live his life but everywhere he goes, people stare. And for all his bravado about not wanting to be around people, he does not put forth a great effort to push away his new friends. It's like he wants people to push through his facade and befriend him. It seems like Clarkson is in every other indie movie that comes out these days, but as long as her performances stay as good as they have been, there will be no complaints here.

Nothing really happens in The Station Agent, but that's okay. It moves languidly but never feels slow, and is about three people getting to know each other as friends. Because McCarthy takes so much care in infusing his characters with life and personality, one can really get a sense of who these three people are, and the film retains a warm, easygoing feeling for most of its duration. McCarthy also uses a lot of humor, from the strange interactions between Fin and Joe to small observations on life that pass between the three. Michelle Williams (Me Without You, Perfume) also has a nice small role as the local librarian. Still, the movie belongs to Dinklage. This is the role of his lifetime, only because it is a serious role that doesn't mock his physical size. What would be really great is for more roles like this to come along for him and other actors so that they have the opportunity to show that they are better for more than just cheap laughs.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R for language and some drug content.

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