An unlikely romance casts the initial spell in helmer Brady Kiernan’s bohemian indie “Stuck Between Stations,” which can be found somewhere on the spectrum between “Brief Encounter” and “Before Sunrise,” all similarly charged portraits of erotic worlds colliding, melding and parting. But the magic is sustained here by “Stations'” two leads, abetted by the relentless naturalism of the dialogue that buoys almost the entire movie. Small release is possible, although the film could serve as a calling card for everyone involved.
Although the film opens in daylight — Kiernan’s use of DiChirico-style shadows is a mix of the lovely and the ominous — it’s a movie suited for night, with time more or less standing still in a nocturnal Minneapolis, where the action takes place.
Co-writer Sam Rosen is Casper, a soldier home from Iraq to attend the funeral of his father; Becky (Zoe Lister-Jones) is a graduate student of comparative literature whose department head has just discovered that Becky has been sleeping with her husband (Michael Imperioli). Her academic future is not bright; Casper is in a weird kind of mourning. They connect by chance when Casper confronts her friends in a bar and gets punched out. He lusted after Becky in high school, she barely knows his name. They connect, and a moonlit wandering commences.
It’s a delicate tightrope Kiernan and Co. are walking, because “Stuck Between Stations” is, at its best, talk: The interplay between Becky and Casper is cautiously playful, funny and informed: They know enough about each other not to have to struggle for conversation. They’re different enough to make it textured, wary enough to make it complicated. Real people may not be this glib and witty, but Rosen and Lister-Jones sell us on Casper and Becky nonetheless.
When Kiernan feels he has to mix things up, the movie can feel like it’s spinning its wheels. Casper and Becky’s visit to a public access TV station in the middle of the night seems forced, and the conflict that inevitably sprouts up between the two feels obligatory.
Kiernan uses split-screen to questionable effect; it’s mostly a distraction from what he’s already doing so well, which is often excruciatingly subtle in its meaning: Casper’s soliloquy toward the end of the film, about his father, could be taken as a heartfelt confession about his mixed emotions, or as a total rationalization of his grief. Either way, it works.
Also good are Imperioli, as a college professor of dubious moral substance, and Josh Hartnett, as a sort-of-anarchist leader of a bike (as in bicycle) gang. A sequence with the gang that involves a circus is among the better efforts by Kiernan to open up the action.
Production values are mixed: Bo Hakala’s camerawork is excellent, but some of the post-production decisions are questionable.