May 18, 2008

Station Agent

I really like steak sandwiches, with onions, and accompanied by a nice bowl of chips, well cut potatoe chips. Strange way to begin a movie review perhaps, but its information that immediatly occured to me after watching Station Agent, not merely because there is a scene in which the three main character sit and eat steaks, just cooked, and rice and tomatoes fried with onions and garlic. Its a scene that made me feel incredibly hungry and that pang hasn't really left me yet, despite the fact that I ate dinner several hours ago and am not undernourished at all! The sight of frying steaks makes my mouth savour.

What has this to do with Station Agent, well nothing really- its a self indulgent complaint! But on the other hand, it has everything to do with a movie that at its best is about the simple pleasures of life. Station Agent is about a train spotting dwarf- the worst bit about this film is its synopsis which makes it sound like Garden State but without the subtlety. Station Agent is about the way that this dwarf, bequeathed a station hut out in New Jersey decides to go out there and live in solitude. Unfortunately for him, outside his door, is a Cuban-American coffee maker called Joe whose response to rejection is just to try and try and try again- conversation becomes inevitable. It becomes even more so when Fin, the dwarf, is run off the road twice by the same woman, called Olivia, a neurotic artist trying to cope with the loss of her son, Sam. It sounds trite and a film about personal renewal- but it isn't really, its a film in which nothing much happens- redeemed by the fact that noone has an epithany until towards the end, the director makes the mistaken decision to install some drama- but even that fits into the mellow movement of the overall film.

It wouldn't work so well unless it had good actors- and Peter Dinklage does a great job here. The character he sketches out is fascinating. Fin is a character who despite his professed normality is a all interior and no exterior. He finds it hard to cope with the rejection of ordinary people who laugh whenever they see him, 4 foot and five inches tall, he gets laughed at wherever he goes or abused. The truth is that the end of the film shows him still laughed at. But he has his fascination with trains- he walks along the railway lines because he can't drive and also because he is just interested. He spends hours reading about trains and watching them- its a great moment when he finally gets to chase a train in a car. Interests make the man interesting. There are some other fine performances- the two secondary leads do well- and Michelle Williams confirms, that despite lacking the fame of her Dawson's Creek costar Katie Holmes, she is by far the best thing to have come out of the irritating teen drama of the 90s.

This isn't a major piece of work- it reminds me a little of Karismaki but without the darkness that you get in a Karismaki piece- rather its a meandering meditation. There are some little points here- if you want happiness, you have to go out and get it rather than sitting at home waiting for it to turn up on your doorstep etc. But they aren't really the point- the point is that here is a man, not a dwarf, here are a set of characters and over the time you spend with them, you get to know them a bit and get to work out why they are friends. This is a film that is best when it isn't a normal film, without a story it functions better than with a story. It is an observation as much as a narrative: and as an observation, it is charming and very funny. The humour is very subtle but Dinklage in particular just has to raise an eyebrow to make you notice the absurdity of his situation as he gets run off the road for the second time or irritated for the umpteenth time. This is a good film- but it is definitely an acquired taste- if you like casual, funny and gentle looks at life, I'd give it a shot- if you want plot and drama then move on somewhere else.


James Hamilton said...

Sadly, M&S no longer make their excellent beef-and-onion sandwiches. We are left to settle with beef and horseradish. Huh.

Anyway, no thanks for passing on your hunger with that rather too vivid description. I am drooling over my keyboard, more human weakness than I am accustomed to showing.