Big little man: Big little movie
If you find anyone who doesn't love The Station Agent, it's time to reactivate the X-Files, because they're not human.
Writer-director Tom McCarthy shot much of his film from low angles to help us identify with the four-foot-five protagonist, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage). That's Fin for short– get it? Short.
Get over your heightist humor. The classic references are here, from Snow White to Mini-Me, but we see the alienation they can cause in a person who is used to being ridiculed by the ignorant and stared at by everyone.
Fin's only friend dies early in the film, leaving him a piece of land in Newfoundland (symbolism, anyone?), New Jersey. They were both train freaks, and an abandoned depot that sits on the property becomes Fin's new home.
Conveniently for getting his morning coffee there's a mobile hot dog stand parked near the depot. (Why, when there's nothing else around?) Unfortunately for Fin, who's trying to be left alone, the stand is being run– temporarily, while his father's sick– by the most gregarious guy in Jersey, Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale). He befriends Fin through sheer persistence.
Another person drawn into Fin's orbit, by running him off the road twice– is Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), a lonely artist who's been separated from her husband since their young son died two years ago.
Joe has had no luck connecting with Olivia, who he thinks has "got that older woman thing going." When he sees Fin succeeding where he's failed, he uses Fin to get to Olivia, and they make a curious, platonic threesome. Fin also opens up somewhat to Emily (Michelle Williams), the town librarian, and Cleo (Raven Goodwin), a black schoolgirl.
For a movie about loneliness and unhappiness, The Station Agent is amazingly funny. McCarthy finds wry irony in the grimmest situations, picks on easy targets like the home movies of obsessive "train chasers," and makes the laughs catch in your throat when assholes make fun of Fin or react to him in absurdly inappropriate ways.
In addition to being a very specific character, beautifully personified by Dinklage, Fin is the universal outsider we can all relate to. We can understand the pain that's made him want to be alone and rejoice when he finds people who genuinely care for him so he doesn't have to be.
By both positive and negative examples, The Station Agent offers tips on how to be a better human being, but there's nothing didactic about it. You've had few chances this year to be a better-entertained human being.