Will you be my friend?" Even now, the words still induce such violent cringes that the floodgates of childhood are opened and the full humiliation of one's mismatched Garanimals, occasional recess shunnings and visible nose pickings comes rushing back. Still, even though we learn to not spit when we talk and not to overwhelm others with our neediness, that simple desire for camaraderie never fully goes away. In fact, in most of us it skulks at the sidelines, noting invitations not offered or jokes not shared, all the while trying to appear much too cool to care.
Train enthusiast Finbar (Peter Dinklage) has more than the usual reasons for his adult aloofness -- in addition to having a geeky hobby, he's a dwarf. A prickly dwarf at that. He barely contains his seething distaste for intrusive questions like "How tall are you?" and "Have you ever made it with a normal-sized woman?" and moves through life as inconspicuously as possible. When he inherits an old New Jersey train station, Fin seems well on his way to becoming a bona fide hermit.
Self-imposed solitary confinement does not an interesting movie make, so first time writer/director Tom McCarthy throws in two more lonely souls - Joe (Bobby Cannavale) a big hunky goof who runs his dad's snack wagon and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), the kind of SUV-driving/latte-swilling older woman who gives all SUV drivers a bad name. Distracted even without the aid of a cell phone, she runs Fin off the road, and an odd little hopeful/standoffish friendship is subsequently formed.
There is plenty of sweetness in The Station Agent but McCarthy reins it in just short of a full-blown sap rising. As Fin, Peter Dinklage is full of black Irish brooding -- his dark brows furrow over light blue eyes and his rich mellifluous voice is reminiscent of Mel Gibson before he got all important. Between Fin and Olivia there is something electric yet suppressed. Even in friendship there are inherent dangers, and The Station Agent is as much a story about those as it is about loneliness and companionship.
Some friends and I were once joking that once you reach a certain age, you don't have the time or energy to make new friends. The Station Agent respectfully disagrees, asserting that friendship is far more important than comfort or convenience.
Publication date: 09/09/04