Ditty’s January Netflix Pick: THE STATION AGENT

THE STATION AGENT (2003)
Writer/Director: Thomas McCarthy
Starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale

On the surface, THE STATION AGENT is about a man named Fin (Peter Dinklage) who is left an abandoned train station after his only friend dies.  It also happens that Fin is a dwarf.  After a lifetime of being the subject of many types of stares, ranging from the curious to the cruel, he packs up his things and moves into the depot with the intention of becoming a hermit.

However, his plan has a few hiccups by way of a couple of quasi-neighbors.  Happy-go-lucky Joe (Bobby Cannavale), for instance, has inexplicably set up his father’s coffee/food truck only yards away from Fin’s depot.  Despite the odd location, the truck has its regulars, including Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a woman doing her best to run from her own grief and failing because no one ever passes up a chance to remind her of it.

Much to his own dismay, Fin finds himself growing fond of this unlikely crew.  Bobby just wants some friends who see him as more than a two-dimensional construction worker.  Olivia needs people who see more than a woman who’s lost a son.  And Fin, who had come to a point where he didn’t want to be seen at all, is surprised to find a couple of people who see a man instead of a dwarf.

The film itself is a quiet one.  As seen in his other works (he wrote and directed 2009’s THE VISITOR and received a story credit on Disney/Pixar’s 2009 film UP), writer/director Thomas McCarthy is not afraid to let silence linger, and most of the important communication is via expressions and behavior rather than massive amounts of dialog.  Mr. Dinklage and Ms. Clarkson are two of the most expressive actors out there, and Mr. Cannavale provides a welcome counterpoint in Bobby’s amusing and constant need to talk.

Thematically, this film is about how people see one another and how we handle it when others define us by the one thing we wish didn’t define us.  And the thing that struck me as particular brilliant is the line of self-ownership and denial walked by these characters.  No one is necessarily trying to deny a part of their experience; they simply desire others to see that they’re more than a single event or condition.  There are plenty of films about learning to embrace oneself, and this type of story could have easily become a part of that canon.  But Mr. McCarthy took the risk of employing a smaller but no less satisfying arc, and it’s a point that makes this film unique.

For more on Thomas McCarthy (and a bit about his next film, WIN WIN), check out this post from Go Into the Story.

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5 Responses to Ditty’s January Netflix Pick: THE STATION AGENT

  1. Pingback: The No-Name Movie Blog and Other Happenings « Elizabethan Theatre

  2. Stuart says:

    Great write-up. I love this movie. What’s particularly great is how utterly real the relationships feel. When Olivia cracks, a lesser movie would have had Joe win her back with charm and wacky charisma, but it’s all played so subtle and human. The director’s not afraid to have the audience just settle in those big spaces, which gives a weight to the interactions, that they don’t need grand gestures to be effective.

    Plus, I really idenfity with Dinklage’s grumpy loner character. For some reason.

    • McCarthy actually addresses the “big spaces” issue in the GITS post I linked. Here’s an excerpt:

      “I would almost rather risk being boring as a writer than feel I’m manipulating an audience,” McCarthy said in an interview. “For 98% of our lives, we have boringness or stillness, and you can allow some of that in the movie.”

      It sounds risky, but I think it’s just as much of a risk to manipulate an audience in a way that doesn’t ring authentic.

  3. Matthew Marko says:

    I was kind of skeptical going into this movie, just because it looked potentially twee and grief-voyeur as all hell. Thankfully, it turned out that it walked a really honest, fine line between seriousness and humor that I think rings pretty true.

    It’s a delicate movie, one wrong scene probably would have totally destroyed it for me, but I’m glad it ended up playing out the way it did. There’s a lot there that I could relate to in my own life, the difficulties we have as adults with relatively set personalities trying to relate to the people we’re thrown in with by fate.

    Either way, glad I checked it out on your recommendation. Netflix monthly picks = success!

  4. Pingback: 2011: My Year in Review « Elizabethan Theatre

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