Review: “The Station Agent”

It’s a very delicate little film this. Ostensibly nothing much really happens.

Fin, a dwarf working in a model train store in New York, inherits an abandoned station agent’s office in upstate Newfoundland from his boss and, with more reason now to leave than to stay, ups sticks and leaves.

Newfoundland turns out to be one of those towns where trains just pass on through. One of those in between places.

And the people there, seem to be kinda in between as well.

Olivia, has escaped from Princeton, to avoid the pitying stares of her neighbours after the death of her son and the dissolution of her marriage.

Joe is biding his time, trying to keep his dying father’s hot dog stand business afloat, but all the while desperate to get back to Hoboken and some lively action or, at the very least, some banter and conversation.

Slowly the three of them become acquainted. It’s hard to avoid people in a small town after all, much as you may want to.

What makes the film work so well though, is its gentleness.

The dialogue and the storyline have an ease about them. Nothing is forced for dramatic affect. It’s all just beautifully understated and quiet.

Some directors would have pushed the storyline too far I reckon. Would have explored, too deeply, each of the characters problems, to full melodramatic effect.

And in doing so they would have lost much of the impact. Because it’s the things that don’t get said in this film, that make it so enjoyable.

Granted, there are moments in the script towards the end of the film that could have been cut. Fin’s drunken outburst in the bar and Olivia’s suicide attempt veer towards heavy handedness and do rather spoil the easy pace that had been established- but on the whole, the tone is balanced.

The characters don’t want, or particularly need, to explain too much about themselves. They simply enjoy each others company, take solace from one another, lightly, easily.

Just like this:

Joe: Hey, Olivia, you got a garlic press?
Olivia: No.
Joe : How can you not have a garlic press?
Olivia: [both she and Fin are smiling, looking at him] Still no!
Joe: Alright, you keep talking! I’m gonna go cook without the garlic press! [turns back to kitchen]
Olivia: [to Fin] I’m not used to having people in my house… especially loud people.
Fin: It’s a nice house.
Olivia: Yeah. David bought it as a get-away place… so I moved down here and got away.
Fin: Where did you used to live?
Olivia: Princeton. [glancing at Fin]
Olivia: I know… I didn’t get very far. But I just couldn’t stay there another minute. Everyone looking at me… the poor woman whose son died. [a bit of silence falls between them]
Olivia: How about you? What made you pick Newfoundland?
Finbar: [smiling mystically] I wanted to live near Joe! [Laughter spreads out gradually from them]
Joe: [leaning over the rail, shouting] Guys! [Fin and Olivia burst into laughter]
Joe: Would you come up here and talk? Seriously, this sucks! [the two keep laughing crazily]

Perfect really.

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