Sundance audiences loved writer/director Ken Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me,” and it’s easy to see why. Few films have ever captured quite so accurately the love-hate relationship between siblings.
What could be stranger than a family? People who may be absolutely 100 percent opposites who are nonetheless bound by genetics to love each other. It’s madness!
This dichotomy is something that anyone who isn’t an only child can relate to, yet it is rarely portrayed realistically in film. Movies show us the hate (usually in a comic manner), and they show us the love (usually in a generic manner) — but they hardly ever show us how easily we slide from one emotion to the other, and how they sometimes even overlap.
“You Can Count on Me” does this very well, thanks to an excellent cast and insightful writing.
A melancholy, dramatic comedy, the film begins with a brief prologue that shows us the accidental death of young Sammy and Terry’s parents in a small upstate New York town.
Flash forward to the present. Sammy (Laura Linney) is a loan officer at the local bank, still living in her childhood house and raising her son Rudy (Rory Culkin, brother of Macauley) by herself. Rudy Sr. was apparently a first-class creep, and no one misses him, though Rudy Jr. wonders about his dad.
In the midst of a brewing battle between Sammy and her new boss, the extremely anal Brian (Matthew Broderick), over whether she should be allowed to leave work for 15 minutes every day to pick her son up at school, Sammy hears from Terry (Mark Ruffalo) for the first time in quite a while. He’s coming to visit.
Terry is fresh out of jail on a minor charge and about as irresponsible as they come. (Amusingly, he takes Rudy out late one night to hustle pool at the local pub.) He and Rudy connect, largely because they’re more or less on the same level, and Rudy is glad to have a father figure in his life.
Tempers flare between Sammy and Terry, even as they try to help each other. Terry needs to get his head on straight, and Sammy needs to figure out why she gets involved with men who are no good for her.
Laura Linney gives a wonderful performance as Sammy. She’s pretty and strong; I defy anyone to watch her and not like her. Mark Ruffalo, too, gives Terry more personality than just “The Slacker.” There’s a lot bubbling under the surface with him, and he has buttons that only Sammy knows how to push.
The film has a brooding quality about it, as it frequently breaks out into humor but more often stays in the shadows. The death of Sammy and Terry’s parents permeates the action, which might make the film less appealing than if a more universal subject had been chosen (most people have families; not everyone’s parents have died, though). Regardless, it’s a smart movie with a lot of love behind it.
B+ (1 hr., 51 min.; )