Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three things I liked about The Station Agent.
  • This was one of those movies that I had been hearing wonderful things about for years but had never gotten around to viewing. I was reminded of that dereliction of duty by the presence of Peter Dinklage on Game of Thrones and finally shunted the film up to the top of my Netflix queue. And boy was I glad I did. More than anything it's the tone of the film that flattened me. Quiet, simple, reserved, with not much going on in the sense of plot mechanics, and yet so very, very assured. This was the kind of movie where I stopped several times during it to try and figure out why I liked it so much, given how little was happening.
  • From stem to stern the small cast was uniformly excellent. I had only seen Dinklage in comic cameos (Elf) and he is a revelation here as the loner Finn. What's so interesting about his performance is how he captures and conveys the character's inherent loneliness and the way he's walled himself away from the world without coming across as bitter or angry, just quietly resigned to a life that's easier to deal with by not getting close to people. The interplay between him and Bobby Canavale, as a doggedly friendly guy running a hot dog cart for his father, is wonderful, with Canavale's insistence on making a connection constantly hitting a dead end, and him never caring. And Patricia Clarkson is excellent as always as a grieving woman unsure of how she fits into the world. It was also neat to see how many of the very small character parts were played by actors we recognize, including Michelle Williams as a young librarian, John Slattery as Patricia Clarkson's ex-husband, Richard Kind as a lawyer, and The State's Joe LoTruglio as a local burnout.
  • What I liked most about the setting was that it avoided the cliche of the gorgeous, life-affirming natural beauty of the landscape that you might guess we would get in a film like this. Although the film is set in a lakeside, community, the feel of the place is not of a natural wonder, but of a slightly worn-down, decrepit, quiet NJ community. In fact, the setting is a real town not far from where I live in northern NJ, and, even though it is not shown as any kind of idealized place of beauty, I'd still like to see it.
  • I absolutely loved how the film is in large part about how society can make life difficult for a little person, and the way the constant stares, giggles, and outright abuse can weigh down on someone, without being preachy or really all that overt. It's all shown through subtle looks and glances, so that when it does come to a boil late in the film, and a drunk Finn causes a scene at a bar, the moment has real power.
Three things I did not like about The Station Agent.
  • The movie avoids the kind of forced coincidences that are the stock in trade of much fiction, so when it turns out that the librarian's jackass boyfriend is the same jackass who we met earlier being a jerk to Finn it feels a little arbitrary.
  • Wow. This is hard. I guess I did wonder a few times how Joe, the Canavale character, could afford to just close the hot dog stand so much.
  • Hmm. Not sure if I disliked anything else. Maybe Finn should have been able to show residence, when he wants a library card, without a bill? Wouldn't he have had some legal papers? Man, I'm stretching.
Until Whenever

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