Do you like movies about angry dwarfs? If the answer is yes, then you are in for a treat with The Station Agent. It’s much more than that though, and to characterize it as just a movie about an angry dwarf would really diminish how good it is. I hadn’t seen any Tom McCarthy movies prior to this, but this movie is great. It’s sweet, sincere, and funny. It stars Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, and Patricia Clarkson, who are all terrific in their roles.
I saw a very drunk and furiously angry dwarf at a bar in New Orleans once. He stayed mostly passed out on the bar, but he would randomly rise up, stare into the distance with a glare that seemed like it was peering into the depths of hell, and then he would shout some sort of muddled threat (presumably at the demons on the other side) at the top of his lungs. After several warnings, he was asked to leave. He paid his tab, slid down from his stool, and braced out into the world with a slow, determined march – not unlike someone heading into a strong wind. He was indoors, and there was no wind, but you could feel the world upon him as he strode away. And Peter Dinklage captures a very important element of that anger with his performance. He plays Finbar McBride, a man with dwarfism who works in a model train shop and lives a very simple life that allows him to avoid society’s unpleasantness. When the owner of the shop passes away, Finbar is suddenly very alone in the world. Unbeknownst to him, the owner was a real ace and included him in his will and gifted him a bit of property – an old railway station – in New Jersey. Finbar packs his things and heads out to live there.
If you’ve only ever seen Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, you have seen a cunning little guy who is moderately angry but overwhelmingly charming. Finbar is reserved and quiet and more of a curmudgeon, and you can feel how being a dwarf in society and hearing the same hacky questions all the time would get really old. He just wants to live in the station, check out trains, and be left alone. Unfortunately for him, that plan is compromised because Joe (Cannavale), who runs his father’s ice cream truck outside of the station, thinks he is interesting and wants to be his friend. Like a puppy, he won’t take no for an answer. He’s really good in this role as kind of a lovable idiot. Is he trying to worm in to eventually ridicule and embarrass Fin? No, he just likes dudes who know stuff about trains, dwarfs or otherwise. Olivia (Clarkson), an artist who recently lost her son, soon folds into their group as well, and in spite of his desires to be left alone, Fin now has friends. He even has a young girl that mills around the trains that wants him to come speak at her school. He is reluctant to do that on account of having been in school as a dwarf and knowing one thing never changes – kids are jerks.
The plot is gently woven in as the story goes along. Fin and his new friends want to make a train movie. Train enthusiasts chase trains and film them as they barrel through tunnels and things of that nature, and Joe wants nothing more than to help Fin do that. In the process, they all find new ways to navigate through the world. Joe’s father is dying, and they all have a common thread of loss in their characters. But mostly, it’s about them finding comfort and friendship with each other. As lame as movies usually sound when described like that, “The one thing they needed …was each other,” this one does a really great job with it. Terrific cast and well-directed, with subtle hilarious moments along the way, I highly recommend it.