You Can Count On Me
2000, R, 111 min. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Linney, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney, J. Smith-Cameron, Amy Ryan, Adam Lefevre, Michael Countryman.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 22, 2000
Just about everybody has a ne'er-do-well in his life. That one person who can't seem to make it right, no matter how hard he tries, only most of the time he's not trying at all. And yet, all it takes is one dazzling, effortless smile to redeem him, to erase his blunders … until he screws up again and it starts anew. For Sammy (Linney), that one person is her errant brother Terry (Ruffalo). After their parents died in a car crash 15 years ago, the brother and sister raised each other in the picturesque but suffocating small town of Scottsville, New York. Sammy grew up to be an adult, with the usual adult accouterments: a job, a son, an affair with her boss. Terry never really grew up. Instead, he drifts from town to town, from one bar brawl to another. He is also the possessor of one dazzling and effortless smile, the kind that breaks his sister's heart again and again. Since its premiere at last year's Sundance, You Can Count On Me has generated word-of-mouth that won't go away. Credit for that good buzz rests sturdily on the shoulders of the actors. (Both were just awarded top prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle.) Linney and Ruffalo deliver casual, honest performances; the force is in the nuances -- the slouches and scowls, a certain gait. Overcome with frustration, Sammy loses her adult composure and shouts at Terry a helpless, enraged, “You suck!” They make us believe in the hating that necessarily comes with loving your family. The relationship between siblings is maybe the hardest: Brothers and sisters are the grade-school confidants, listening to every starry-eyed ambition, and they are there, decades later, when the disillusion sets in. Terry and Sammy's bitterness and resignation -- at realizing a husband isn't coming home, the God in Sunday School Bible stories doesn't exist, that some people will live and die without ever going anywhere -- are native to anyone. Writer/director Lonergan succeeds at capturing eloquently the disappointments of growing up and growing old. But he isn't always successful at reining in the schmaltz. The actors are nicely restrained throughout, but even they can't save some of the deliberately waterworks-dialogue. The original score (by Lesley Barber) is also mishandled; it's a gorgeous, blue-sky-and-wheatfields kind of sound, but Lonergan plays it too loud and in the wrong places. And the edits are jarring, taking us away too soon from the precise and delicate maneuverings of the actors' faces. We know they have something to say, even if it's only an eyebrow raised or just-there shrug, so it's hugely frustrating for the camera to snatch us too quickly from the moment. You Can Count on Me is a solid effort bolstered by top-notch acting. But, considering the goldmine Lonergan was sitting on, I counted on something a little more striking than “solid.”