'The Station Agent' slow but a worthwhile ride

    ow that the summer’s over, films that are subtle and smart actually have a chance with audiences. One that could easily go unnoticed this Oscar season is “”The Station Agent,”” playwright Thomas McCarthy’s screenwriting and directorial debut which won the Audience Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. McCarthy takes his sweet time to tell the tale of a little person, a hot dog vendor and a troubled artist finding an unlikely friendship. Big-bang thriller, this is not.

    Courtesy of Miramax
    Hitching a ride: Three unlikely friends come together in Thomas McCarthy’s dramatic directorial debut film.

    Nonetheless, it’s engaging. Fin (Peter Dinklage), a man born with dwarfism, moves to an abandoned New Jersey train yard after his only friend dies. Artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson, giving the film’s most sophisticated performance) is dealing with separation from her husband and her son’s death. She almost runs Fin over as he walks along the road. She later finds his home to apologize and begins visiting him regularly, slowly drawing him out of his isolation.

    Loud-mouthed Joe constantly pops in, asking Fin to hang out and inquiring about Olivia, disregarding Fin’s wishes to be left alone. Actor Bobby Cannavale gives an enthusiastic performance as the overzealous Cuban snack-stand owner, giving the film a much-needed kick of energy.

    Joe, Fin and Olivia spend more and more time together, developing an awkward friendship that is somehow entirely believable.

    Courtesy of Miramax
    Unlikely friends: The actors’ unique blend of talent floats a message of acceptance in this moral heavy film, ultimately creating a mix of class and drama.

    Credit the outstanding performances of the three leads for carrying a film that could have been weightless without them. McCarthy’s over-economical script clouds the characters’ past and present lives with unanswered questions. The approach is commendable, especially in this age when screenwriters rarely adhere to the “”show-don’t-tell”” rule of writing. Ultimately, that makes the characters seem underdeveloped rather than mysterious.

    The film also has its share of art-house film vices such as odd characters who are overly anxious to display their quirks. Michelle Williams (best known for her role on “”Dawson’s Creek”” as Jen) and young Raven Goodwin give uniformly excellent and underrated performances. Williams’ vaguely slutty librarian girl with a good heart and Goodwin’s lonely black girl with an equally good heart seem more like caricatures than real characters.

    Still, the film has its strong points. The characters must deal with their own individual tragedies in a number of touching scenes, and the unlikely friendship makes each of the burdens easier to bear. Each brings an interesting flavor to the mix, whether it’s Fin’s obsession with trains, Olivia’s art or Joe’s Cuban food. The scenes are also flavored with the pastoral landscapes of old train yards and old houses, adding to the overall sedate feel of the film. Thankfully, the necessity for human interaction and support, even in the toughest times, is the only moral or message that is overtly presented. Even as the film slips into a bit of melodrama near the end, its message comes through with class.

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