2003 – ……….(squinting)……….(smoking)……….(brooding)……….
I wanted to like this movie. I really did. Netflix had it rated very highly, and it’s 95% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (another reason never to trust that site). Unfortunately it turned out to be a dull, boring slog that feels much longer than its 89 minutes. I know, I know, it won all kinds of Sundance awards. It’s still bad. I knew I was in trouble as soon as it started:
Signs a movie is going to be bad: when the first scene is of a dwarf, standing alone on a rooftop, smoking.
Tyrion Lannister plays Fin, a train-loving little person who retreats to an isolated station after his only friend dies. Although the Netflix plot summary says that he intends to live the life of a hermit, it’s never really explained what he’s up to. Is he fixing the station up? Is he doing something with the abandoned train cars? Why does he like trains so much in the first place? We never find out. When I watch a movie, I usually expect my main character to have a motivation other than getting a book from the library and watching trains go by. Maybe I’m old-fashioned that way.
Nevertheless, Fin quickly runs into a purportedly delightful assortment of oddballs, including annoyingly chatty vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale), depressed artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), and pregnant librarian Emily (Michelle Williams). There is no shortage of drama fodder here. Joe’s dad is seriously ill. Olivia’s young son has died and she’s separated from her husband, Mad Men’s John Slattery. The father of Emily’s baby is a deadbeat hick. These stories only lurk in the background, however, cropping up at irregular intervals but mostly buried by long, loooooo-o-o-o-ooong periods of silence and melancholy guitar strumming.
There are two kinds of scenes in The Station Agent: very short ones where the characters actually talk (but the talk is pointless), and very long ones where they barely speak (and nothing happens). Expect a lot of exchanges like this one, when Fin first meets Joe:
JOE: I’m Joe Oramas. What’s your name?
JOE: Cool. Hey, your place around here?
WOW! Oscar-worthy screenwriting there. It doesn’t help that, due to how soft-spoken and mumbly the entire cast is, I thought his name was “Vin” the entire time. Since this movie features a little person, expect plenty of almost comically exaggerated moments where the crass and uncaring normal-sized people stare, point, make Fantasy Island references, and take pictures of him. A kid of about 13 or 14 yells,”Hey buddy, where’s Snow White? Grumpy or Sleepy over there, huh?” #1, a kid that age would never make that reference. #2, WE GET IT.
The problem is, the movie wants it both ways. We’re supposed to hate the closed-minded locals who shun Fin because he’s a dwarf, but we’re supposed to love the “good” characters who seem to be drawn to him because… he’s a dwarf. Why else do they want to hang out with him? He’s not a particularly magnetic character. He’s not funny or charming. He barely speaks. It’s just poor storytelling (the acting, though, is very good across the board).
None of the storylines get wrapped up in any satisfying way. Will Emily leave her abusive boyfriend for Fin? Has Olivia really gotten over the death of her son? Will Joe’s dad be okay? What will Fin’s life be like at the station? Instead of a real conclusion, the movie ends with Fin asking when zeppelins were invented, which elicits the following exchange:
JOE: You can go down to the library and ask that little hottie [Emily].
OLIVIA: She is cute.
JOE: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.
FIN: She doesn’t wear glasses.
OLIVIA: Buy her some, it’s worth it.
THE END. What. The. Heck. This wasn’t a movie, it was two-thirds of a movie. I wanted Joe’s dad to regain his health and open a second food truck. I wanted Olivia to have an art show to signify her return to society. I wanted Fin to headbutt some hick in the balls and dance with Emily inside the train car he was secretly reconditioning this whole time. Instead they’re just sitting on the porch smoking, and the happiness they’ve found seems exceptionally tenuous and temporary.
More like The Station Lame-gent, am I right?