Monday, January 9, 2023

Recasting 2003 (supporting): "The Station Agent"

Directed by Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), The Station Agent was made just over twenty years ago on a budget of only half a million dollars. McCarthy had his three main actors in mind when writing the screenplay, so that along with the shoestring budget would've made it unlikely from the start that Meryl would've been involved. But I've read that while McCarthy was a friend of Peter Dinklage and a colleague of Bobby Cannavale, he did not know Patricia Clarkson at all. I don't know whether or not he and Meryl knew each other, but the lack of connection with Clarkson makes it easy enough in my mind to imagine that he could have just as easily been a fan of Streep's and offered her the part. Had she read it, she would've done well to accept. 

The film centers around Dinklage's character, Fin, a man with dwarfism who inherits property from his only friend. All fin wants is to live in solitude. But he's soon brought into contact with two neighbors: the overly talkative Joe, who's temporarily running his ill father's hot dog trailer, and Olivia, a soon-to-be divorced artist, grieving the loss of her young son. I think the crux of this movie and part of what makes it so refreshingly satisfying can be summed up in a portion of the late Roger Ebert's review, in which he states,
It is a great relief . . . that The Station Agent is not one of those movies in which the problem is that the characters have not slept with each other and the solution is that they do. It's more about the enormous unrealized fears and angers that throb beneath the surfaces of their lives.

What Ebert says is so true. We just get to see these folks work themselves out. On their own, with each other, through each other. There are some rough patches for them, as is to be expected in life. But it offers some wonderful acting moments along the way. 

Fin is so heartbreaking here. He keeps everything so close to his chest, and here he's started to share some modicum of closeness with someone, only she's the one who's pushing him away. The very thing he was hoping to protect himself from happens here. And as tough as it is to experience what Olivia is going through, Fin's reaction is what packs the greatest punch. 

Were it not for Clarkson's Academy Award-nominated performance in Pieces of April that same year, she may well have secured more recognition with this film. Despite the two films competing for awards, Clarkson was honored by several critics groups for this supporting performance (Boston, Florida, Kansas City, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics). She also landed a SAG nom in the leading category (it's a vaguely borderline performance). I suppose many would've considered Pieces of April the likelier choice for this year. Truth be told, I've never seen it. But I'm such a fan of The Station Agent's quiet yet powerful presence, that it was an easy choice for me. It also would've been such a great opportunity for Meryl to work in a wonderful ensemble with these actors (Michelle Williams also does a lovely job as the town librarian). 

The film was highly praised by critics. It holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 81 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." In addition to the aforementioned awards for Clarkson, McCarthy won the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, and Dinklage scored a SAG nom for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It's a darling little movie that for having some heavy moments, is easy to watch again and again. 


  1. Never heard of this Jeff, thanks for the interesting suggestion! I will watch it this week.

    Scrolling through movies of 2003 I was surprised by the lack of any standout movies I would have liked to see Meryl in. One that came up was "Goodbye Lenin" about the fall of the Berlin wall and communism in Eastern Europe, which had the following (unintentionally?) hilarious description:

    "But when the mother, a loyal party member, sees Alex participating in an anti-communist rally, she falls into a coma and misses the revolution. After she wakes, doctors say any jarring event could make her have a heart attack, meaning the family must go to great lengths to pretend"

    I have no idea if the "mother" role is supporting, likely co-lead. It is also in German which would have been a new challenge for Meryl. I will watch this too!

    For my pick I will settle for the role of shopkeeper "Ma Ginger" played by Lauren Bacall in "Dogville". Although Meryl is obviously much younger than the part I really liked the experimental nature of the movie and how dark it became, plus that ending where vengeance was brought on the town. It has some really interesting themes and ideas which don't often get explored, especially in such a graphic way by "names".

    1. Such great suggestions, Charlie! Both movies that I have not seen. Goodbye Lenin in particular sounds really interesting and potentially comical.