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You Can Count On Me (2000)
You Can Count on Me is a 2000 American drama film starring Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Rory Culkin, and Matthew Broderick. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, it tells the story of Sammy, a single mother living in a small town, and her complicated relationships with family and friends. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 73rd Academy Awards: Best Actress for Linney and Best Original Screenplay. The story takes place in the fictionalized Catskill communities of Scottsville and Auburn, New York. (There are actual villages with those names in western New York's Finger Lakes region) The film was primarily shot in and around Margaretville, New York. As children, Sammy and Terry Prescott lost their parents to a car accident. Years later, Sammy (Laura Linney), a single mother and lending officer at a bank, still lives in her childhood home in Scottsville, New York, while Terry (Mark Ruffalo) has drifted around the country, scraping by and getting in and out of trouble. After months of no communication with his sister, Terry is desperate for money, so he comes to visit her and her son Rudy (Rory Culkin) who are excited about reuniting with him.
The single Mom is Sammy (Laura Linney), an organized bank loan officer living in her small-town childhood home. The loner is her scraggly brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo), a troubled wanderer coming back to ask Sammy for cash. And while this seems pretty basic from the outset, Lonergan has some smart ideas up his sleeve.
Most notable is the way he uses the character Rudy, Sammy's 8-year old son, a kid utilized by Lonergan as well as any writer has ever used a child, avoiding action that seems cutesy or contrived. Sammy would love for Terry to be a strong male influence on Rudy while he's visiting, but she isn't sure she trusts him.
Rudy (played by 11-year old Rory Culkin - yes, another Culkin), connects with Terry but is smart enough to know that his uncle's not the brightest guy in the world. Their dialogue is the highlight of the movie; there hasn't been such straight talk between two guys in a film in a long time. In essence, Lonergan has written Rudy as a young boy that has enough understanding to take people as they are.
Alas, Sammy should be so smart. She tries to anchor Terry, give him home, give him purpose - but maybe she needs all of the above as well. The director never misses the opportunity to show the dichotomy and the irony between the two siblings, but thankfully doesn't beat us over the head with it.
Lonergan, who previously wrote The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, has put together a killer cast to take advantage of his fine script. Linney (The Truman Show) gets a once-in-a-career chance to shine, giving Sammy the delicate balance between saint and whore. Ruffalo and young Culkin are just great - both are as meaningful and natural as it gets - and the aforementioned Broderick admirably takes a lesser role as Sammy's new boss, a man who's got troubles of his own.
You Can Count On Me is directed and edited with a refreshing efficiency, with Lonergan preferring to simply move along to the next scene if you already know how this one will end. We don't need to see two people stare at each other, start making out, and then jump into bed. Lonergan gives us the stare, and then cuts to the bed after the sex is over. It provides a nice dose of surprise and complexity throughout the movie.
The movie's dramatic flavor is occasionally peppered with some quality laughs, in a healthy combination that also keeps the film moving, which is good. But in the most unorthodox move of all, You Can Count On Me really doesn't have any dramatic climax, no grand moment of epiphany. It's just an intelligent look into a connected set of lives, in which a neatly-tied ending isn't as important as the details that make up each day.
On DVD, Lonergan offers a commentary track that is mostly staid (complaints about shooting on a low budget are mixed with his philosophies on life) -- the main curiosity being Lonergan's disbelief in a higher power or 'a reason for anything.' Which is kind of odd, when you consider this powerful film he made that might suggest something to the contrary....
You can count on Linney.