So how many really good movies can you name about brother-sister
relationships? And what if you limit your list to only those about
adult siblings? Don't be surprised if your list is empty, or at least
close to it. In the future, any such list will have to start with YOU
CAN COUNT ON ME, the winner for Best Picture and Best Screenplay at this
year's Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Ken Lonergan
(the writer of last year's hit comedy ANALYZE THIS), YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
is a rich and witty drama whose centerpiece is a sibling relationship.
Laura Linney (Truman's wife in THE TRUMAN SHOW) stars as the sister,
Sammy. Sammy tries to be a level-headed mother to her 8-year-old, Rudy
(Rory Culkin). Her ex is a permanently AWOL father to Rudy, who has
never seen Rudy Senior. Her brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), has come for
a visit. In a poignant restaurant scene, she shows that she is there
for him, but he is there for money. It momentarily breaks her heart.
But this isn't one of those dysfunctional families movies, even if their
relationship does have its difficult moments. This is a story of love,
not hate. The chemistry between them and between Terry and Rudy is
remarkable and genuine.
Sammy has had a modestly successful life, but Terry is a screw-up,
although he claims, as if he doesn't believe it, that "I'm not the kind
of guy that everyone says I am." They grew up in the small backwoods
town of Scottsville, where everyone knows everyone else. It is a "dull,
narrow town, full of dull, narrow people," Terry tells Rudy in a long
put-down of Scottsville. "What are you talking about," Rudy asks him
with soulful, confused eyes. "I have no idea," Terry confesses in a bit
Their parents died in a car accident when Sammy and Terry were young.
In a brief prologue, we witness the accident almost matter-of-factly.
The beauty of the delicate script is the way tragedy is consistently
downplayed and that key incidents are merely sketched out. The writer
allows us to use our imagination to fill in the details. And the
direction is done with great subtly and finesse so that there isn't an
overacted or schmaltzy moment in the production. The result is a
picture so authentic that it has the audience hitting the ground
running. Only a few minutes into it, and we feel like we've known and
cared about these people all of our lives.
Sammy laments, "I wish Mom was here," when talking to her brother about
how to handle a troublesome issue. Anyone whose mother has died
certainly thinks this and often. Linney delivers this line with
heart-felt but restrained emotions, making it feel as genuine as if she
were talking about her own dead mother.
Another part of the plot concerns Brian (Matthew Broderick, ELECTION),
Sammy's new manager at the bank. His is an anal-retentive type, who
admits that "I like paperwork." He wants daily time cards and a
conservative color palette for the bank's PC displays. Brian and Sammy
are a combustible mix, but rather than getting fired, as it looks like
she is destined to be, Sammy ends up sharing fireworks in bed with her
boss instead. This affair shocks and delights her at the same time. In
Linney's best bit of acting, she lets out a small series of nervous,
joyful laughs in the car as she sits there by herself after their first
fling. (The writer gives us a few glimpses into what may or may not be
Brian's unhappy married life with his pregnant wife.)
Besides writing and directing, Lonergan also plays the part of Sammy's
laid back priest, the funniest character in the movie. She wants him to
tell her that she will burn in the flames of eternal damnation for her
sins, but he has a more flexible moral code, which allows for continual
Linney, with some of the spunk that Holly Hunter demonstrated in
BROADCAST NEWS, delivers a delicately nuanced and wonderfully appealing
performance that deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. But you want
to see this movie now and not wait until the nominations come out to
remind you of the great movies that you missed.
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME runs 1:49. It is rated R for language, some drug
use and a scene of sexuality and would be acceptable for most teenagers.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes