Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4
People: Can't live with em, can't live without em. That turns out to be
the theme of debut director's "The Station Agent," but when you think about it,
isn't that the theme of most stories? Conflict is the essence of drama:
Conflicts would not arise if people had not made connections. The theme has a
particular poignancy in "The Station Agent," an intimate, character-driven
piece that won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Festival.
When E.M. Forster said "Only Connect," he was not referring to The Great
Northeastern Blackout of 2003, but to something that is, believe it or not,
more important. Connecting with our fellow human beings is not difficult for
some: If you're intellectually challenged, you'll fit right in. But if you're
physically disabled, watch out. You're likely to be patronized or ignored or
even bullied. Such is the case with Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf
who stands about four and one-half feet from the ground and who is moving ever
increasingly into his shell.
He takes an interest in trains rather than people, and who can blame him?
The kids outside yell, "Hey, where's Snow White?" In an elementary school
classroom, he's mocked by a kid who says "I'm taller than you!" A supermarket
cashier overlooks him to serve a customer who is behind the poor guy and a
librarian almost faints when, thinking that no one was in the room, is startled
to find Fin. When Fin's boss in the train-hobby store drops dead and leaves a
train depot way out in the sticks of Newfoundland, New Jersey to his loyal
employee, Fin is happy: Now he can remove himself entirely from the company of
his fellow creatures.
No such luck. A talkative, friendly guy, Joe (Bobby Cannavale) who is
manning a food wagon outside the train depot wants to hang out with him and a
middle-aged woman, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), in the middle of divorce
proceedings, almost runs him down, and gives him a liftthe beginning of two
new relationships. After trying to shake the two off and treating the hot
librarian (Michelle Williams) as though she were a librarian, Finbar signals
usas though he were really working as a station agentto where the story is
headed. While we're confident that he's coming out of his shell, we're not
aware of how the people who have befriended him are themselves helped to see
new sides of themselves, becoming as happy in the process as we in the audience
who are obviously rooting for Fin will be by the conclusion.
"The Station Agent" is, like so many of the fine products of the Sundance
Festivals, nicely understated, like to draw in an audience yet unfamiliar with
the joys of MTV. The word "lovely" comes to mind in assessing the performances
of the gifted actors in the roles of three disparate people.
Copyright © 2003 Harvey Karten