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The Station Agent

LONELY HEARTS LOCAL

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How many of you remember the Bee Girl from the Blind Melon video for the song "No Rain"? She was that lonely little girl who wore the bumblebee outfit, and everyone teased her, until she found a grassy field sprinkled with joyful dancing bumblebee people just like herself.

 

I've argued with a friend about the plight of the Bee Girl. My friend believes it's life-affirming for outcasts to discover that they're not alone. But I find it sad to think that people who are different can only ever gain acceptance from others like themselves.

 

Which brings us to The Station Agent, an indie charmer about Fin (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf who moves onto a small plot of land in exurban New Jersey and into the sturdy (if slightly ramshackle) former train station that goes with it. He inherits the place from the old black man who owned the hobby shop in Hoboken where Fin repaired toy trains and attended club meetings at which the members watched films of the trains they "chased" (i.e., rode alongside and filmed with a home movie camera).

 

Fin is the Garbo of dwarfs, desperate to be alone, so the solitude of the place suits him. Then, into his life pops Joe (Bobby Cannavale), the ne plus ultra of spirited Hispanic New York working-class fellows. He's been tending his ailing dad's hot-dog truck for six weeks now, and it's driving him even crazier. (We never do know why he parks in such an isolated part of town, or why he drives all the way from Manhattan to sell his food.) So the chatterbox Joe strikes up a one-sided friendship with his taciturn new neighbor, who spends all day reading train books and taking long walks to nowhere along the tracks.

 

The hypotenuse of The Station Agent is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a 40ish soon-to-be divorcee whose young son died two years earlier, and who has a habit of almost running Fin over with her SUV. Throw in a shy, chubby little black girl (Raven Goodwin) from the neighborhood, and a pregnant blond library clerk (Michelle Williams) with an abusive boyfriend, and you have a multicultural, multi-sized, multi-aged tale of the Bee Girl, writ large.

 

Writer/director Tom McCarthy, who's also a very competent actor, seems to be working more from instinct than life experience (he's husky, handsome and hirsute). But because his instincts are pretty good, The Station Agent unfolds with a bracing warmth and tenderness.

 

Fin's love of trains is an ironic metaphor for his own intransitive emotional life, and together with his self-loathing -- he's only ever had sex with normal-sized women -- he's become so accustomed to being treated differently that he's grown cold to the possibility of friendship. Olivia is breaking away from the domination of her upscale dickhead husband. And Joe -- well, he's more idiot than savant when it comes to conducing human relations, but his persistence does seem to benefit this unlikely ménage.

 

The Station Agent works so well because of McCarthy's lean, thoughtful writing, and because his actors seem to know what they're doing. Dinklage makes his reticence feel uncomfortably organic, Clarkson positively vibrates with repressed emotion, and Cannavale -- sometimes a showy peacock of an actor -- uses his affable bravado to make Joe sweetly plaintive, an ingenuous big boy in a man's body. Three

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