A pleasant, inconsequential indie with deep Minneapolis roots, "Stuck Between Stations" should please youth-oriented Minnesota audiences. It's unlikely to set the rest of the planet on fire.
First-time director Brady Kiernan's 85-minute film was shot on locations around the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus and hipster enclaves downtown and Uptown in 2010. Casper (Sam Rosen) and Becky (Zoe Lister Jones) follow the blueprint of Richard Linklater's talk-heavy "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" romances, sharing confidences, ambling across miles of nighttime sidewalk and falling deeply in like with each other.
While the theme is evergreen and the stars' vibe convincing, one of the story's key elements is already dated. Casper, a serviceman stationed in Afghanistan and returned home on funeral leave, agonizes about his return to combat. The dilemma has lost its dramatic punch as the nation’s attention shifts from international entanglements to economic issues on the home front. Add in the distractions of split-screen overload and a tacked-on subplot about Becky's Lothario grad-school adviser (Michael Imperioli), and the eye-rolls almost outnumber the smiles.
But not entirely. The screenplay, by Twin Cities native Rosen and co-writer Nat Bennett, captures the tentative dance of two near-strangers getting to know each other, a collection of charming flashes, awkward moments, brief summaries of complex aspects of life, efforts to put the best face on one's limitations and make light of the ones that are tough to camouflage. In other words, a textbook first date. The stars have a realistic, mild chemistry, and you feel that Becky and Casper may remain a meaningful presence in each other's lives. In what capacity? Your guess is as good as mine.
The film's technical credits are good enough, local landmarks pop up with pleasing regularity, and Josh Hartnett makes a strong impression from his very first moments onscreen, playing a politically belligerent old buddy of Casper's. The camera discovers him taking an outdoor leak near the Midtown bike greenway. His exit from the brief cameo isn't memorable, but it's a whiz of an entrance.