Unless you’re some hip independent film director with fabulous hair and a skeletal model girlfriend who likes the heroin, being an outsider can be a lonely endeavor. The social media sect, vengeful Big Tech overlords and preening politicians pontificate on how society is now all inclusive. Anyone that spends at least four minutes a day in the real world knows this is a pile of crap. Most of us are conformists. The freaks get fried for being different. If what makes you unique was emblazoned in your DNA at conception, you could be in for a bumpy ride as you navigate the challenges of life. Mother Nature, a spiteful whore when things don’t go her way, can alter the gene pool and create oddities that society turns its well intentioned but too busy to be bothered back on. As soon as they send that tweet with the hashtag celebrating diversity, most log off and revel in their normalcy.
You happen to live in Hoboken, New Jersey. It doesn’t appear to be the Hoboken of million dollar brownstones, upscale restaurants and overpriced coffee. It looks as if is the Hoboken of fifty years ago, a ramshackle neighborhood where petulant weeds grow out of cracked pavement. As you are harassed by insolent children playing in the street, you wonder if anything good has ever escaped besides that thin crooner with piercing blue eyes who did everything his way. You are a perceptive and knowledgeable train enthusiast. You repair trains in a model train shop and watch home movies of famous railroad lines, narrated by semi-narcoleptic nerds, with a group of train lovers one night a week. The gravel voiced shop owner, a kindly old gentleman who has a fondness for you and his cigars, is your one friend.
And you’re a dwarf. Bust a deal, face the wheel. You landed on gulag, brother. I don’t think the d word is acceptable anymore, but political correctness is nobody’s friend. The term “problematic” is one of our greatest problems. And irony is lost on the pinheads calling the shots. Lighten up, the main character in this flick refers to himself as a dwarf. No need to get twisted over terms and words we find repulsive.
Life is going to be a chore, a war of attrition spent pulling society’s barbed wire out of your diminutive body. You need to become wary of people. Scorn is your best defense. Being regarded as an interesting, but malformed curio is not how you want to go through life. Why is that old woman taking a picture of you? Does she want to prop you up on a shelf in her musty dining room, next to her porcelain Hummel figurines? The casual effrontery of some people could make even some NBA centers want to slink back into the shadows
Actor turned writer/director Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent is a classic of independent cinema. Filled with slightly oddball characters and a plot that highlights small moments instead of sudden plot twists or operatic character reveals, The Station Agent is the cure for anyone who has grown tired of the blockbusters infected with overblown CGI and cookie cutter plots or the banal comedies that would rather smear an intelligent screenplay with poop stains than explore its possibilities. Many of us will never be in a shootout with Mexican drug lords whose bad jokes are deadlier than their aim. Slime shitting aliens have yet to level any of our cities with obnoxious death rays. However, we will all experience tragic loss and be alienated at some point on our journeys.
Life—a sadistic child with the tainted tendencies of a sociopath—perpetually yanks our hair and steals everyone’s toys.
Small in stature, tall on talent actor Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a world weary little person who inherits a decommissioned and dilapidated train station in rural New Jersey. Having everything in his existence taken from him in Hoboken, Finbar sets out to the town of Newfoundland where his new home awaits. Shots of him strolling along the tracks, suitcase in hand, evoke classic images of hobos roaming the countryside in search of a better life in another part of America. Folks in his new home should respect the fact that the man just wants to be left alone with his thoughts and his trains.
Hot dog man Joe, played by versatile mad scientist and energetic genius Bobby Cannavale, is not about to let Finn sink into the comfort of his solitary world. Joe is the guy that always wants to do something with you. Firing out questions faster than a five year old wielding a Tommy-Gun, Joe just needs to know things about you. This information is not for malicious reasons. Joe just wants to make people feel good about themselves. Like the guy that spritzes cologne on his privates before he goes out at night, Joe is an undaunted optimist. Had he been born hundreds of years earlier, maybe Joe and his positive thinking would have made him the first person to navigate the treacherous waters around Cape Horn, or reach the frozen glaciers of Antarctica in a rowboat. With most of earth’s regions already discovered and mapped out by Google, Joe runs his father’s food truck while the old man recovers from an illness.
Much to his dismay, the truck is parked right outside of Finn’s train station. With that first cup of coffee he orders from Joe, the solitude that Finn desires will forever be threatened. Joe is not a man that understands the concept of being alone, or keeping to yourself. Joe quickly asks Finn if he wants to get a beer. Finn declines. Don’t drink? I do, Finn replies.
And walks away.
Nearly flattening someone with your Jeep Cherokee is a pretty good way to get yourself noticed by that person. Almost killing them twice in the same way is a sure way to get yourself remembered for life. However, that is how Olivia Harris introduces herself to an exasperated Finbar. Olivia is played by the talented actress and indie matriarch, Patricia Clarkson. With her thin frame, aristocratic nose and cheekbones, Clarkson brings an intelligence and mature beauty to the wounded Olivia. Like Finn, she is somebody that is trying to deal with loss by closing the curtains on the world. The world is a busybody, however. Like the secret police kicking down doors in some twisted dictatorship, good intentions harass us and arrest our personal growth. Watching the way Dinklage and Clarkson try to keep their distance from well meaning people is interesting to behold. A stern word here and there, a phantom appointment that you are late for, or train watching that must be done by yourself. When all else fails, Finn and Olivia will simply insult whomever is trying to reach out to them.
McCarthy deftly shows us how these three are imperfect without broadcasting it like Welles’ War of the Worlds radio show. They all act in ways that are regrettable, much like the deranged person writing this article and everyone reading it. They also have admirable qualities that McCarthy and the actors show us, but never tell us. It is a movie that treats its audience with intelligence. If you were able to muster up the brain power to purchase a ticket for the flick, McCarthy realizes that we may have the ability to understand the sometimes subtle changes in human emotion. This is a practice that some directors of big budget flicks should learn.
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