You Can Count on Me [Review]

December 1st, 2000
You can count on me still
Smalltown family drama proves a terrible title can't keep a good movie down.

In screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan's directorial debut, it seems fitting that the titular words "you can count on me" are never actually uttered by any of the characters. Considering that the title sounds like a typical marketing attempt to turn a pivotal piece of dialogue into the title, the fact that it is not said at all may actually be fitting. Here, Lonergan's focus is on the unspoken, and the words that float just beneath furtive glances and averted eyes. Unfortunately, the title may work against the film and keep audiences away, which would be a shame; You Can Count on Me is definitely worthy.
Written & Directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Running time:
109 minutes


Sundance 2000: Best Picture & Best Screenplay

December 1st, 2000 (in select cities)

Sammy, played by Laura Linney (last seen in The Truman Show), is a WASPy, single mother living in the town of Scottsville. Scottsville seems to have sprung, fully formed, from a Norman Rockwell painting, and Sammy's life seems to echo Rockwell's quiet, homespun images. She spends her days caring for her 8-year-old son Rudy (Rory Culkin) and working as a loans officer at the local bank, and just like a painting, her world is static and unchanging.

Around the same time, a new manager (Brian, excellently played by Matthew Broderick) starts at the bank. He's one of those irritating middle-management types whose tactlessness and by-the-rules supervision drives employees nuts. At one point, he admonishes Sammy because bank staff are "setting their PC monitors to all kinds of crazy colours."

Sammy's social life in Scottsville is almost nonexistent. The closest thing to a boyfriend she has is the noncommittal Bob (Jon Tenny), who's nice enough, but doesn't call her for weeks at a time. Sammy's struggle with the relationships she has with men in her life is a continuing theme throughout the film, and the choices she's forced to make shakes up her musty Scottsville life.

Mark Ruffalo and Rory Culkin in You Can Count on MeOne of the most refreshing aspects of You Can Count on Me is the way the dialogue and interplay between the characters has such an open, spontaneous feel. It comes as no surprise that the original concept for the film sprung from theatre. Lonergan originally wrote a one-act play, which eventually became the screenplay for this film, and the way this film breathes resonates with the feel of theatre.

The performances, too, are uniformly excellent. Linney, who has usually been cast in films for her icy blondness, brings a nuanced, plaintive performance to Sammy. And Ruffalo is outstanding as Terry. He seems to be channeling a Wild One-esque Marlon Brando here, all furrowed brow and sidelong glances, as if he's lost something precious, but can't seem to remember where. Keep an eye on both of them for nomination nods come the film awards season next year.

You Can Count on Me is one of those films that critics and actors complain Hollywood doesn't make anymore. It creates situations, but doesn't ram home closure, and is unafraid to portray flawed characters who do not ultimately redeem themselves. Good brother-sister relationship films are quite rare, and it's surprising how effortlessly and elegantly Lonergan and cast manage to pull this off.

There are some small flaws here, such as a couple of later scenes which feel like forced melodrama, and the underdeveloped character of Rudy (which seems to exist for the sole purpose of being a fulcrum the other characters revolve around), but on the whole, You Can Count on Me is a excellent slice of mid-western American melancholy, tempered with a spry sense of humour. Audiences that have grown used to big, sweeping melodramas and exclamation point climaxes may not enjoy this, but those looking for a subtle tale of love and loss will not be disappointed.

Related Links
Official "You Can Count on Me" Website
Check out the trailer (Quicktime required : Get Quicktime here)

ISSN 1499-7894
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