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EntertainmentNutz Feature

The Station Agent

Release Date: October 3, 2003 (NY, LA; wider release: October 17)
Studio: Miramax Films
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Screenwriter: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin, Michelle Williams, Jayce Bartok, Maile Flanagan, Joe Lo Truglio
Genre: Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating:
R (for language and some drug content)
Official Website:
Miramax.com/The_Station_Agent

Plot Summary: When his only friend and co-worker dies, a young man born with dwarfism moves to an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey. Though he tried to maintain a life of solitude, he is soon entangled with an artist who is struggling with a personal tragedy and an overly-friendly Cuban hot dog vendor

Review By Blake French:
- Television is not that bad, ah?

People will go to great lengths to avoid boredom at movie theaters. After losing interest in a movie, many begin compulsively checking their watches every few minutes; some take out a pen and paper and start scribble grocery lists; while others attempt to drown their tedium in bottomless buckets of popcorn with visit after visit to the concession stand. As I watched The Station Agent, I was checking my watch every few minutes—even though I knew that I wasn’t wearing one—just because it gave me something to do.

The Station Agent is one of the most frustrating, disheartening films since All or Nothing and The Good Girl, though I nearly stand alone in my assessment. Like those films, The Station Agent doesn’t develop an interesting premise; instead, it observes a candid, slice-of-rural-life, and whether someone enjoys it or not will depend on if they enjoy watching a character go about his daily life.

I found it no fun at all, but The Station Agent has earned ubiquitous praise and a number of prestigious awards: it even won the audience award at Sundance, which is a mystery to me. I’m guessing that audiences have delighted in the stellar performances, original script, and quirky indie flavor, especially since mainstream films have sucked royally lately. But I could not find joy in this film. I walked into the theater optimistic and bright—eager to experience what I presumed to be a quality picture—but I left in an ornery, frustrated mood. This is the kind of date movie in which a couple might leave bickering, but they won’t know why.

The screenplay, by Tom McCarthy, who also directs the film, is the cinematic equivalent to insect repellant. Now, I suppose, under some circumstances, repellant can be good; after all, it does keep pests away. In this case, however, I felt like the insect, repelled by the film’s main character, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage). He’s an unhappy, bitter man, who stands a mere 4-foot-5, but he’s attitude is enough to push away everyone who walks into his path. As a result, he has no friends, and quite frankly, he doesn’t deserve any.

Fin might not have any friends, but he does have a passion for trains. So, when he inherits an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey after his co-worker suddenly dies, it becomes his new home. Unfortunately for Fin, the depot sits just feet away from a hot-dog stand, where the Cuban-American owner, Joe (Bobby Cannavale), is eager to converse with Fin. And it isn’t long before he meets the eccentric Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) during a near roadside collision.

The movie gives Finbar few redeeming qualities. I didn’t mind the fact that he’s angry and bitter; after all, many stories begin with characters that inhabit antisocial qualities, such as Dickens’ timeless A Christmas Carol. While Ebenezer Scrooge is, at first, as unpleasant as Limburger cheese, however, at the end, he changes significantly. In The Station Agent, initially, Finbar hates the world. At the end, he still hates the world…just not as much. He just doesn’t change that much. So, since the film does nothing but observe Finbar’s daily interactions with other characters, and since he changes very little by the end, the movie ends up moving nowhere fast. I felt emotionally unconnected with Finbar, which did not make for an engaging experience.

Recently, I had to chance to speak with Mary Jane Skalsky, the film’s co-producer. I asked her what she liked about the script when she read it. She said that she liked it for reasons she couldn’t explain. Here’s a guess: she liked it because it’s cute, cuddly, and observes sad people who find solace and peace in each other; it makes you feel good about yourself. I think Skalsky liked the theme, not the story, because it’s just not very interesting. It’s like those plastic desserts on display at fancy restaurants. Looking at that fake strawberry cheesecake makes you feel good…but you can’t eat it, so what’s the use?

 

 

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