YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) 

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Laura Linney
Mark Ruffalo
Rory Culkin
Matthew Broderick
Jon Tenney
Adam LeFevre
Gaby Hoffman
Josh Lucas

Kenneth Lonergan



Time: 109 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Linney) and Best Original Screenplay.

I don't usually see many small films, mainly because they don't play by my house and I'm loathe to go out of my way to see a movie in case it isn't very good. It just adds to my annoyance. However, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME was getting such rave reviews from critics and friends alike, that I decided to make the effort to watch it. It also has a great cast which doesn't hurt. What I found was an amazingly acted, wonderfully directed, poignantly written story about life, love and the trouble with family. The performances given by Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo and Rory Culkin will leave you breathless. They are people you know, living and breathing members of a very screwed up family. Ruffalo and Linney play a brother and sister who lost their parents in a car crash when they were still fairly young.

As adults they are both desperate to find meaning in life and both failing miserably at their quest. Terry's (Ruffalo) way of coping with the tragedy is to avoid entanglements of any kind, even those with his sister Sammy (Linney) and her son Rudy (Culkin). Hers is trying to be the perfect sister and mother, making her life as normal as possible in order to keep the chaos she knows is out there at bay. Though they desperately need each other, their personalities are polar opposites, creating nothing but angst and anger in the other. Since he feels his life is unimportant, he does whatever he wants regardless of the consequences. Her only steadfast plan is to give Rudy the childhood she never had, protecting him from the evils of the world as long as she can, since it's only a matter of time before he finds out for himself. Terry, on the other hand, wants him to learn now, so that he's more prepared for the sorrow of life than he was. To that end, though pleased to see each other and be around family again, it's clear that Terry's presence in their lives is not an overly positive one.

"You know, if I were you, I'd be a little nervous about firing somebody I'd just had an affair with, okay?"

She's glad Rudy is getting a little male mentoring, but Terry is not exactly the role model she has in mind. As if Terry's problems weren't hard enough to deal with, Sammy is torn between two men. One, an old lover Bob (Tenney), who wants to marry her and the other, her married boss Brian (Broderick), that she's having an affair with. Though she loves Bob, she knows marrying him would just be a total disaster. Her relationship with Brian began in hatred and turned into raging passion, but it's so illicit and wrong she can't stop herself. Plus, it's made her job alot less stressful. As much as she lectures Terry about the lack of direction in his life, it's clear this is situation where the pot is calling the kettle black. Of course, Sammy isn't landing herself in jail every time she makes an improper decision, so it's not exactly even in the screw-up department. In the end, though Sammy can't bear to live without him in her life, she has no choice but to ask Terry to remove himself from her home. Rudy is the only pure thing left in her life and she not about to let anyone destroy that, not even her only brother. The film ends much as it begins, with them leading their own lives, physically apart, but emotionally connected.

What's incredible is that this is the first film as a director for Kenneth Lonergan and believe me, it doesn't show a bit. From the cinematography that manages to make the small town of Stoneyville both inviting and suffocating at the same time, to the powerful score that captures the mood and underpinnings of a range of emotions, this is a first class effort all the way. Linney and Ruffalo are mesmerizing. Their dance of love and anger is so poignant and truthful, probably much closer to most people's reality of sibling relationships than one liked to think. This is not your regular family drama. It's about day-to-day survival in a fragile world and trying to find people to trust your heart and soul to along the way.

Linney gives the performance of her career and I hope she continues to be recognized for it. I've never seen Ruffalo before, but I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot more of him. How he manages to make you like Terry despite his very obvious flaws is an acting coup. Broderick turns in a performance that's both funny and annoying. His character would be a good friend, but a miserable boss and I'm just glad he's not mine. He's so passive/aggressive you just want to choke him or in Sammy's case, screw his brains out. Anything to get him to shut up. I never would have guessed that the Culkin clan could produce another natural child actor, but Rory does a wonderful job as the uptight and curious Rudy.

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME may be a small, independant film, but the emotions and relationships it reveals are anything but. This is a powerful film about the ties that bind family and how tragedy shapes the lives of those it leaves behind. It's a well-acted film that deserves more attention and one that will leave you feeling glad you spent the time...as long as your family isn't as crazy as this one. Otherwise, it might hit a little too close to home.

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