Even in today’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy world, it’s difficult for a gay character on television or film to be defined by anything besides their sexuality. There aren’t any gay men in Thomas McCarthy’s lovely Sundance winner The Station Agent, but the film’s lead character is a different kind of social outcast whose life is often the object of spectacle. Finbar McBride (Peter Kinklage) is a lonely dwarf who inherits a shoddy piece of land somewhere in Bumblefuck, New Jersey, after his friend dies. It’s there that he meets a series of a quirky locals: a perpetually frazzled artist, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), still suffering from the death of her son two years earlier; a Cuban goofball (Joe Oramas) who sells café con leche from inside a small hot-dog stand; a horny librarian (Michelle Williams); and a little girl (Lovely and Amazing’s Raven Goodwin) who shares his fondness for trains. McCarthy seemingly set out to make a film about a dwarf that wasn’t necessarily about dwarf prejudice. The joy of The Station Agent is how McCarthy evokes the loneliness of Finbar’s life using simple stretches of silence and a series of long shots that call attention to the man’s small stature. If it appears as if the director is objectifying Finbar by situating him repeatedly in such a facile fashion before grotesque, broke-down train cars and buildings, he more or less does the same with the equally lonely artist played by Clarkson. Life in Jersey for Fibar begins with a hysterical bang when Olivia nearly runs him over twice in one day, and in the dwarf’s relationship to the artist, McCarthy subtly evokes the complex attraction between an older woman who may or may not be falling for a small person because she reminds him of her dead son. It takes a lot of work for Olivia and the Cuban Bobby to get Finbar to come out of his shell, but when they do, everyone begins to “walk the right of way” for the rest of the film.
The Station Agent’s color palette has the sheen of an old-fashioned train set. Skin tones are a little on the pink side and edge enhancement can be a problem, but the transfer is satisfactory overall (colors are warm and shadow delineation is top-notch). The audio is subdued but gets the job done nonetheless: dialogue is clear and the surrounds come alive whenever a train passes through the screen.
One of the liveliest, but at the same time most alienating commentary tracks I’ve ever heard, director Tom McCarthy and actors Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale spend much of their time trading "you had to be there"-style jokes with each other and stories about the Station Agent’s crew. Kudos to Dinklage (or as our music editor likes to call him: The Dinklage) for taking all the "little people" jokes with a grain of salt. Rounding out the disc are five deleted scenes (with optional commentary by everyone sans Clarkson) and trailers for The Human Stain, The Barbarian Invasions, and Cold Mountain.
Make a little room on your shelf for this unassuming DVD edition of The Station Agent. Don’t worry it’ll fit.