Stuck Between Stations is the story of two people who meet by chance and spend a night talking and wandering the streets of Minneapolis. They may or may not love each other, but they clearly love their city.
The premise of the film invites comparisons to Richard Linklater’s 1995 film, Before Sunrise; in that film, two characters (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) meet by chance and spend the night wandering the streets of Vienna. Both Stuck Between Stations and Before Sunrise are characterized by heavy dialogue, peripatetic movement and romantic undercurrents. But whereas Before Sunrise reflects the carefree spirit of the mid-’90s, Stuck Between Stations possesses much darker overtones.
In Stuck Between Stations, Casper (Sam Rosen, Revolutionary Road) is a soldier on bereavement leave from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Rebecca (Zoe Lister-Jones, Whitney) is a grad student in the throes of a professional and personal dilemma. The two meet at a nightclub and, realizing each has no better option, decide to pass the ensuing night meandering Minneapolis streets and neighborhoods.
The script, co-written by Rosen and Nat Bennett, has its strengths but proves a bit uneven. The script is best when Casper and Becky are reflecting on their differing lives’ paths or reminiscing on shared school memories. There are hints of Jason Reitman’s Young Adult as the two characters revisit their high school days from different perspectives, each informed by the polar positions they held along their school’s popularity continuum.
Several scenes also explore the zeitgeist regarding varying attitudes about the war in Afghanistan. For example, when Casper and Rebecca are discussing the war, she observes, “It just seems the nature of warfare is so complicated and even the history of the region is so complex from before we got involved. We’re just all here too busy buying a whole bunch of [stuff] made in China.”
For his part as a soldier in Afghanistan, Casper insists, “I just don’t like to be special for it.”
The script falters when Bennett and Rosen rely too heavily on coarse language to convey emotion. Done well, swear words in a script can help develop a character, set a tone or generate surprise or humor. Overdone, swearing just gets dull, as it does in Horrible Bosses or even in The Blair Witch Project. Given the depth of emotions in Stuck Between Stations, falling back on a couple choice words feels a bit lazy on the part of the writers; worse, it often feels some meaning has been lost.
The setting of the film is a definite strong point. Much like in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, where Hawaii becomes a character in the film, so it is with Stuck Between Stations and Minneapolis. As Casper and Rebecca make their way through the city, Minneapolis’ signature characteristics are on display: its art, its architecture, even its bicycling culture.
The music of Minneapolis plays a vital role throughout the film, as well; songs by such bands as the Soviettes, Atmosphere and Lookbook feature diagetically, and former Lookbook front man Grant Cutler wrote the film’s original score, with Twin Cities singer Aby Wolf providing vocals. The very title Stuck Between Stations is taken from the name of the first track of The Hold Steady’s 2006 album Boys and Girls in America — true, the Hold Steady are based in Brooklyn, but front man Craig Finn is a Minneapolis native.
But what really elevates Minneapolis to character status in Stuck Between Stations is just how visually stunning the city appears, and that credit goes to director of photography Bo Hakala. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked with Hakala on other projects, although I am in no way connected to Stuck Between Stations. But from experience, I know that Hakala can take a script and compose frames that far exceed the writer’s or director’s concept of a scene.) Nearly every frame sparkles with Hakala’s truly gifted eye for composition. Hakala lives in Minneapolis, and his love for his home city and its visual appeal manifests itself gloriously on screen.
The DVD includes a ten-minute clip from a Twin Cities Public Television program called Minnesota Original, a series that reports on the state’s arts and artists. As a DVD extra, this clip provides an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the making of Stuck Between Stations.
Ironically, in the Minnesota Original clip, Stuck Between Stations director Brady Kiernan says, “Our movie is not about flashy style or ‘Look at this great shot that we got’.” If that’s true, then Kiernan shouldn’t have bothered to hire Bo Hakala… but he’s probably eternally glad that he did.