AnimeJune’s Review: *** (Out of five)
I’ve always been a person of routines myself. During the school year, I had a specific time for exercising, a specific time for showering and eating, a specific time for packing my lunch, getting ready for school, making myself presentable. The structure of a routine has always provided me with a kind of psychological safety net of sorts, a certain knowledge that if I kept to the program, everything would go the way it was supposed to, and nothing unexpected would happen unless I let it. It gave me a measure of control, while at the same time it restricted me.
In The Station Agent, the deep rut of a well-established routine is what drives dull, dreary Finn McBride, a disillusioned dwarf, to confine his life to the schedule of trains. An avid train-watcher, he shares a train memorabilia shop with a fellow train enthusiast, watches movies of people riding trains, and keeps a “Zephyr” train poster in his bedroom. His quiet schedule is disrupted when his fellow train devotee (and only friend) dies unexpectedly, bequeathing Finn with an abandoned train depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey. When Finn travels there to explore his sudden inheritance, he is accosted by an ebullient hot dog vendor named Joe and narrowly escapes being run over (twice!) by lonely artist Olivia, whose grief over the death of her young son has left her a clutzy, frazzled mess.
It is obvious from the start that Finn (Peter Dinklage) and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), are kindred spirits. Wounded by experience, both have isolated themselves from the world in an attempt to shield themselves from further pain, Finn with his rigid day planning, Olivia with her flighty, fragile personality. It is up to Joe (a fantastic Bobby Cannavale) to bring them together with his relentless, charming optimism. He continually wears down their defences. When Finn brushes off Joe’s offers of companionship with the excuse, “I have something else to do,” Joe’s immediate, and impossible to refuse, request is “Can I do that with you?” When Joe can’t go near Olivia without getting the cold shoulder, he drags Finn along with him to communicate. The remarkable way Joe manages to unravel Finn and Olivia’s restricting cocoons is the heart and soul of the film.
While feel-good fuzzies abound in this movie, I felt it could have been presented a little better. The pacing is erratic, jamming scenes of great intensity and movement next to slow, tedious tableaux of character introspection in a jarring contrast. Also, the transition between scenes is sudden, and inconsistent, as the tale jumps from setting to random setting and from time frame to random time frame like a sun-addled butterfly. I found it confusing, and clogged the natural flow of the story. The screenwriting, alas, is startlingly laid-back and unnecessary. The exceptional actors manage to convey so much emotion without saying anything, that certain bits of dialogue have no connection to the process of the story, and sound like they were simply tacked on to fill up empty silences (“I like blimps.” “Yeah, blimps are cool” is one example).
All in all, watching this film was like listening to a familiar, warm, and funny tale told by a rattled, absentminded, and distracted storyteller. In the end, the point is made, and it’s a rather good point, but I couldn’t help but become distracted from the wonderful, just-this-side-of-kooky plot by the fragmented, irrelevant scene direction. Perhaps that in itself is a subtle message, a hidden irony, that a film set around people dedicated to routines and schedules and rules, itself follows no clearly set path or outline.