Back to Lonergan’s Triumph: “You Can Count on Me” – A Movie Review

Laura Linney

The playwright Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed the 2000 You Can Count on Me, a decent motion picture about a brother-and-sister relationship.  Pleasant Sammy (Laura Linney) is a churchgoing small-town resident who works at a bank and is a single mother.  Her brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) is a cordial if somewhat neurotic drifter, occasionally in trouble with the law, now paying a visit to Sammy and her 8-year-old son.  Since the two have long been orphaned, Sammy more or less wants to cling to Terry, her only sibling, and is troubled when she doesn’t hear from him.  Now, however, she is troubled by his ordinary irresponsibility, especially with respect to her son.  For one thing, he fails to pick him up from school on a rainy day.  Sammy, even so, unexpectedly turns into a moral wretch by practically abandoning a dating partner and carrying on sexually with her new, and married, boss at the bank (Matthew Broderick).   When she summons her pastor, Father Ron (Lonergan), to counsel the ne’er-do-well Terry, she is attempting to hide from her own need for spiritual service.

But such a thing can only be short-lived.  Sammy herself seeks counsel.  But Father Ron is a Protestant softie who offers theological wimpiness.  He is not quite what the adulterous Sammy needs, although he is right to put the following question to Terry:  Do you believe your life is important in the scheme of things?  Apparently he does, but will he ever behave in a way that confirms this view?  The movie is resolution-less, which is rather too bad.  It’s not about to try to answer any questions.  What it does try for, here and there, is a certain tidiness which is better left alone, even though–happily–it little mars the picture.  You Can Count on Me is a winner.

Lonergan’s script makes sense and its dialogue shines.  Linney and Ruffalo never make a misstep , though Rory Culkin, as Sammy’s son Rudy, is uninteresting.  As for Broderick, he is, I think, what John Simon called him in his review of the stage musical The Producers: “endearingly artful.”  Like many other American flicks, the movie is a bit too foul-mouthed but–bravo–it’s certainly far from foul.  Count on it.     

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