You Can Count On Me

25 Feb

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (2000)

It’s almost too easy to make a film that pulls on the heartstrings these days; beautiful but modest leading lady, handsome love interest, emotionally troubled family history, some kisses in the rain with aforementioned handsome love interest. But for me, these kinds of stories are just not applicable and coming across as too insincere or obvious in their intentions to be convincing. That is why You Can Count On Me, Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 ode to the everyday dysfunctional family, is one of my favourites.

Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) Prescott are siblings, separated by distance but joined by the traumatic experience of losing their parents in a tragic car crash when they were young. Sammy grows up to be a single mother, trying to block out the memory of the deadbeat father of her adorable child, Rudy (Rory Culkin) and focus on continuing to do a frankly great job at raising her son to be everything his father wasn’t. Elsewhere, Terry is similarly lost, failing to keep a job, stay sober and settle with a girl who doesn’t have as many problems as he does. On paper, we have the makings of a traditional sob story, all we need now is an exciting love interest for Sammy. Instead we have Brian Everett (Matthew Broderick), her ball busting boss, who seems to do everything in his power to make Sammy’s life even more difficult to manage. And who poor Sammy inevitably finds herself drawn to.

But what separates this so far template plot from the rest is the characters themselves. We might not particularly like them as people, (I’m afraid we’re looking at you, Terry) but sometimes we don’t like people in real life. This is naturalistic filmmaking at its finest. You Can Count On Me is wholly compelling and understated, portraying the often overlooked but complex relationship between brother and sister with all its tender, frustrating and unconditional nuances. The rapport between Linney and Ruffalo is gripping as her down and out exasperation is met and matched by his maddening selfishness but also his annoyingly loveable way. Particularly in his interactions with Rudy. Terry’s reappearance in his sister’s life not only gives hope of company to Sammy, but also Rudy who has grown up without a father figure. While he might not be the best kind of figure you’d want in your son’s life, the fact is, he is there.

Lonergan has created a masterful examination of family relationships as they exist in the face of the crap life sometimes throws our way and the unfounded decisions we all make in an attempt to regain control of our lives. Despite earning a Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress nomination for Linney, You Can Count On Me still remains shockingly underexposed outside filmic circles. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have that cathartic moment as the credits roll, or an emotionally directive soundtrack, but these are just some of the things I love about Lonergan’s beautiful film.

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