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Movie Review:

"The Station Agent"

So, we decided to go see this movie today, the one we were supposed to have seen via screening on Monday.

And we nearly got a private screening. At 3:10 on Thursday, there were only three other people in the theater: a man alone, who came in after the trailers started, and two older women, who I was worried about because they were speaking very loudly to each other before the movie started, and people like that often yak to each other throughout the film -- seriously, can anyone tell me why people think they have the right to do that? -- but they didn't.

This film fits the definition of "quirky". I don't even know how to begin to describe the characters, only to tell you who they are.

The oddly named "Fin" is a dwarf. I know it's not politically correct to say that, but the character himself calls himself that, so who am I to argue? He loves trains. Watching trains, repairing model trains, reading about trains. He works in a model train shop. When the owner dies and the shop is sold, Fin inherits some land and an old train depot in the bizarrely named town of Newfoundland, NJ, which I thought had been made up for the film, but in fact (click above) is a real town in north-central New Jersey, about 50 miles northwest of New York City. He goes to live in the depot, and watch the trains go by. He's not really the "station agent", but as he tells one of the other characters later, that's who lived there before.

The pace is really slow as we meet several other "quirky" characters: Joe, who operates a mobile hot dog stand that sets up near the depot every day (but who never seems to sell a single hot dog), and whose father is ill and constantly calling Joe via cellphone to do one thing or another; Cleo, a grade school student who wants Fin to come speak at her school about trains; Emily, who has recently moved to the area from Arizona (why, we never find out), has an abusive boyfriend and is attracted to Fin in what appears to be a genuine way; and most importantly, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), who lives alone in a house on a hill and apparently has no job, and no one else in her life, but we learn differently very quickly.

The three main characters are Fin, Joe and Olivia, and Olivia meets Fin when she nearly runs him over with her car -- twice. The three of them hang out together, and talk, almost mindlessly. We learn about events in their lives that make them do this, and although at the beginning of the film you are almost saying, "Huh? Why do I care at all about these people?", you learn how deep their lives are, how much pain they are all in, and how they got to both the physical and emotional place they inhabit.

Peter Dinklage, who plays Fin (short for the even more preposterous name "Finbar"), is very brave to play this role, where the character wants very much to be accepted simply as a human being, rather than a dwarf, and for the most part is so. We are jarred into reality on a couple of occasions where we see the cruelty of those who want to make fun of people like that, and it's easy to put yourself in that place.

This movie made me think, and I liked that. Only Clarkson (who's been in "Far From Heaven", "The Untouchables", and "The Dead Pool", among others) and Richard Kind (best known for his role in the TV series "Spin City") are well known in this cast, and Kind's role is minor. The rest of these relatively unknown actors are all so realistic, even as odd as they are, that they absorb you into this weird, but ultimately fascinating, story.

AYRating: *** 1/2