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DVD Review: “Stuck Between Stations”

Casper is a soldier who returns home from Afghanistan on bereavement leave. His last night in town he runs into Becky, his high school crush. The young man and woman spend a romantic night wandering the streets of Minneapolis, getting reacquainted and going on a series of misadventures. Stuck Between Stations may sound like a variation on Before Sunrise, that critical darling directed by Richard Linklater, however, this microbudgeted production is a lovely, heartbreaking film with exquisite acting between its two leads, Sam Rosen and Zoe Lister-Jones.

Following his father’s death, Casper (Rosen) has come back, but refuses to enter his dead father’s house. He sleeps in a tent pitched in the back yard when he isn’t tooling around town on his beat up bicycle. As the hours dwindle before he’s scheduled to return to active duty, Casper decides to visit some old friends, but not before he tosses back a few shots at a local dive. It’s at the bar that he runs into Becky (Lister-Jones), the girl he pined for throughout his time in high school. Back then he was kind of a loner and Becky was real popular. They had a couple of classes together and were even lab partners once. Still, when she sees him for the first time in years, she has no clue who Casper is.

Mind you, Becky is a little distracted; her life is in a shambles. She’s a grad student having an affair with her adviser and their indiscretion has just come to light with the man’s wife… who also happens to be the head of the English department. The justifiably bitter wife has stolen Becky’s laptop (which contains her thesis) and is threatening to kick her out of grad school.

Casper picks a fight with some guys who appear to be hassling Becky, not realizing that they’re her friends. This misunderstanding leads to their reintroduction  and the beginning of their night. Even though she doesn’t know this guy anymore, something about Casper compels Becky to ditch her friends and walk off with him. From there, they run into some of Casper’s old friends, including Josh Harnett’s Paddy, a sort of anarchist who has a bicycle gang, and also have a run in  with Becky’s adviser, David, a spineless professor played by Michael Imperioli. In between, these two wayward spirits discover that they have more in common than they thought and, although neither comes right out and says it, they start to fall in love.

Stuck Between Stations is a brisk film at just 86 minutes. It was shot fast and cheap on HD, but it is in no way an amateurish effort like some digital films. The director, Brady Kiernan, put a lot of thought and care into the composition of his shots and uses a nice combination of hand held and locked down camera shots. The editing is pretty straight forward, not a lot of jump cuts, and he does some nice stuff with using split screen to show events taking place in multiple locations. The music of Grant Cutler was another highlight for me. His beautiful compositions added emotion to every scene and brought a dreaminess to the late escapade of Casper and Becky.

The main attraction of this film is the acting. Don’t be fooled by the marketing of the movie; Josh Harnett and Michael Imperioli appear briefly in Stuck Between Station, probably as a favor to someone to help get the movie made. Good for them for seeing the potential of the project and allowing their names to be used to help attract an audience. Sam Rosen and Zoe Lister-Jones, the real stars of the film, are both superb. Rosen brings a likable charm to Casper, making us root for him. Although he wears a wry smile throughout the movie, you can tell that he harbors some pain and that he’s struggling to keep it contained. Fortunately, he has a wonderful distraction in the form of Becky. As that character, Lister-Jones gives her strength and a world weariness that borders on cynicism. Yet, in reaching out to Casper, Becky finds some hope, and Lister-Jones manages to show Becky’s conflicted feelings with conviction.  The two actors play well off of each other and in the end make you really hope that they’ll find each other once again after Casper returns from his tour of duty.

Small movies like Stuck Between Stations regularly get lost once they’re released on DVD, and it’s up to word of mouth to get people to take notice and rent or buy them. I hope that you’ll take my fond feelings for the film into consideration and check it out.  It would be nice to see Kiernan get more opportunities to direct and to see Rosen and Lister-Jones have more exposure.