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You Can Count On Me Review

By Joe Lozito

Family Matters


In one of the most dismal movie seasons in recent memory, it feels like years since I've seen a film that actually features actors giving full, thoughtful performances. "You Can Count On Me", writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's story of a brother and sister coming together and coming apart in their hometown years after the sudden death of their parents, is a category of film that has gotten rarer and rarer over the years: an American movie based on characters.

The two main characters in this case are Samantha and Terry (Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo). Ms. Linney's Samantha is a study in subtle repression. Samantha has been trying to keep her natural rebellious side in check over the years, but the reappearance of her brother in her life brings it back with a vengeance. When Terry asks her "Do you want to smoke pot?" Her reaction is perfect: "No! (pause) Why, do you have some?" Naturally, we cut to the siblings on the porch smoking.

Samantha has spent the last eight years raising her son Rudy Jr. (Rory Culkin) as a single mom. Thankfully, Mr. Culkin shares none of his brother Macauley's propensity for mugging for the camera. Rudy is an actual eight-year old, understandably confused by his mother's conflicting emotions and his newly arrived Uncle Terry.

As Terry, Mr. Ruffalo comes off like Owen Wilson's deeper, darker twin. His Terry is a stoner and a slacker, but not without a mind of his own. While his sister has stayed in town, Terry has done everything possible to get out. He has traveled around sending Samantha postcards from different states. When he finally settles back into his hometown, he falls right back into his old routine: hanging out in bars, falling face first into trouble.

"You Can Count On Me" is a comedy for the most part and it just goes to prove that the best, deepest laughs come from characters rather than contrived scatological situations. Of course, the film also has its dramatic side, but it never spoon feeds its emotions. Deep down, Samantha and Terry are both slowly self-destructing in very different ways. While it might not be obvious, the characters, each in their own way, feel a subconscious safety in the fact that they can count on each other more than themselves. What we can count on from Mr. Lonergan is a fine, thoughtful script with full characters and no easy answers.

What did you think?

Movie title You Can Count On Me
Release year 2000
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary A small gem of a film which subtly examines the way a brother and sister deal with the loss of their parents. Full, wonderful performances all around, particularly from Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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