The more one-night or one-day walk-and-talk romance films we get, I’m surprised that so many continue to work so well. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that real life conversations don’t get old after you’ve had a few, or a few hundred. Particularly those kinds of dialogues you have with strangers where you quickly click and immediately become great friends, maybe lovers. Just as they rouse and exhilarate when they happen to you, such encounters and experiences are typically stimulating when watched from the outside, as well. Brady Kiernan’s “Stuck Between Stations” depicts another of these moving voyeuristic stories and it’s just as easy to fall in love with as its predecessors.
While this film may not have the star power of Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” (though Josh Harnett shows up for a cameo) or the twee appeal and soundtrack saleability of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” or the surprising developments of “Certified Copy,” it has very likable leads, adorable moments, heavy and deep exchanges and satisfyingly turns, basically all that’s required of this “walkie talkie” subgenre that is growing and so far technically nameless (feel free to use my term, although sometimes the characters in these films drive. Also: do we include longer-time-frame films like recent SXSW winner “Weekend”?).
In this one, Casper (Sam Rosen, who co-wrote the script with Nat Bennett) is on leave from Afghanistan for the funeral of his hippie-ish father and it’s his last night out in Minneapolis before returning to service. Drinking alone at a bar, he re-meets Rebecca (“Breaking Upwards” star Zoe Lister-Jones), who he knew from afar in grade school, following a mistaken, embarrassing attempt at valiance in her honor. And away we go, into the night.
One thing that caught my interest right away is that “Stuck Between Stations” could have been more of a “homecoming-of-age” movie, the sort in which a depressed guy visits his hometown for a sick or dead parent and is swooped up by a whimsical young townie. But the film doesn’t dwell on either the singular drama of loss — in fact, Casper seems pretty apathetic about the situation — and its female lead is nowhere near the “manic pixie dream girl” type. She’s fairly impassive herself, but she has had a bad day (we learn immediately that her academic career is in jeopardy due to an unwise affair) and is merely holding things in as she wanders about with a relative stranger from bar to party to indie circus to playground to hipster public access program and so on.
There is also a kind of “When Harry Met Sally” thing going on, since Rebecca makes it clear right away that they are going to be friends and nothing more. That might be a signal in most (rom-com) movies that in actuality this couple will become something more. But here you don’t trust the familiar and expected destinations, especially since Rosen and Lister-Jones have a complicated chemistry where they fit together very well, but not necessarily romantically. Kiernan over-emphasizes their bond by having each moment they’re separate presented in split-screen so they’re almost always at least together on screen (the device is more successful than it sounds). Ultimately you may be curious about whether they will or won’t, but as the film goes on you will be happy either way because the narrative end point (which is also teased in a flash-forward opening scene) for these two is not the point.
“Stuck Between Stations” is not perfect. I’m in agreement with others that the title isn’t great, for one thing (it comes from a Hold Steady song that’s fitting if you’re familiar with it, I guess). The worst part for me, though, is when Michael Imperioli enters the picture as the asshole professor who has been cheating on his wife (also the head of the department) with Rebecca. Not only does Imperioli seem out of place in so many ways (especially in the way he’s not a very good actor), but the entire sequence is also overly involving for a film that otherwise doesn’t deal too directly with the underlying dramas at hand.
Still, I’m very much looking forward to what’s next from Kiernan, who makes his directorial debut with this film, as well as Rosen and Lister-Jones (both of whom were in “Breaking Upwards,” actually, he in a small role). I’d be fine with them being reunited in ten years for a sequel, a la “Before Sunset.” Or not. But I enjoyed them so much as a duo in this that I’d definitely like to see them together again in some capacity.