Released 2000. Director: Kenneth Lonergan
AT THE START OF THIS MOVIE, little Sammy and Terry’s parents are killed in a road accident. Fast forward some twenty years and now we see two very different adults each facing their own set of problems. Sammy is a single mother with a sullen eight-year-old boy. She works at a local bank and cannot make up her mind about marriage. Terry has become a drifter, wandering the country from Alaska to Florida without a job. Writer director Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful movie gently explores the relationship between a sister and a brother who seem not to have a lot in common. It is an intimate family drama with its heart in all the right places. Unforced, unpretentious, unsentimental, the drama is never overblown, and the humour is never artificial. The simple and well-crafted script brings the siblings together in their opposing approaches. Sammy has become the one to stay home in a small town, living a stifling and ordered life she doesn’t seem particular thrilled with. She has a child, but she doesn’t have a husband, and she’s in two minds about marrying the guy she’s been dating. Before she sorts out one problem, she starts another by having an affair with her new boss. Terry’s life is marked by postcards. He drifts from town to town without a sense of permanence. He’s been in jail, he’s out of money, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next and he doesn’t even bother to comb his hair. This time he’s come home to the conservative small town where he grew up, to live with his sister for a while. Sammy’s young son Rudy becomes, for a moment, the meeting point of these two worldviews. Sammy is protective of Rudy, while Terry attempts to show the boy some fun as well as harsh reality outside his mother’s cocooned world. But the problems that the adults face are never simple. There is even a time when Sammy seeks religious absolution and direction. Expectedly, Terry wants nothing to do with it. What makes You Can Count On Me an engaging experience is the natural flow of characterization and development, and to a major degree, the delicate and balanced performances all round especially the two leads.
Laura Linney, winning a slew of awards including an Oscar nomination playing
Sammy, finally found a role that grants her a chance to be the actress she’s capable of.
Mark Ruffalo also imbues Terry with a level of warmth that mixes well with his woundedpersona. Together, there’s a sincerity and charm between them that exemplifies the bond between a sister and a brother held by love and separated by a hairline of reservation.
This is a terrific work that deserves to be cherished. In a quiet and unassuming
manner, it opens the door to an ordinary looking family. Then it takes our hand to touch the strains and scars they try to hide sometimes, even from each other. But regardless of what the circumstances may be, and how much hurt and disagreements are criss-crossing within the family fabric, strength and understanding is always there.
The true beauty about this film is its honest and observant manner that refuses to
be pedantic. It cleverly steers away from being all sweetness and huggy kissy; at the same time it doesn’t allow itself to be bitter and resentful. You Can Count On Me is character driven by motivations and plausible courses in ordinary people’s lives. There is no melodrama or plot twists trying to retain your attention. It’s all very genuine, down to earth, and that makes it a bold, insightful instance of filmmaking.