You Can Count on Me

There were two Grand Jury Prize winners at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Only one, Girlfight, got any noticeable press in the mainstream press. Both movies are good, but the other winner, You Can Count on Me, is more deserving only because it is the kind of warm, character driven drama that rarely appears on screen anymore. You Can Count on Me has a linear story, but what matters more is the relationship between siblings Sammy and Terry, and how their reacquaintance affects both their lives.

Their parents died when both were young, and the two took startling different paths. Sammy (Laura Linney, The Truman Show, Primal Fear) still lives in her parent's house, and is a single mother working at the bank. She embodies the essence of a goody-too-shoes, trying the best she can to raise her son Rudy (Rory Culkin, The Good Son, Getting Even With Dad). Terry (Mark Ruffalo, Committed, Ride With the Devil) is a drifter, moving all over the country from job to job. The opening scenes show him scheming to go home to get some money from Sammy and then leave.

Once Terry comes home, the situation changes. Each person's influence on the other sparks a change. Terry, who would not be anybody's ideal parenting model, beings bonding with Rudy. Sammy begins to break out of her sheltered life, going as far as embarking on an affair with her manager Brian (Matthew Broderick, Election, Inspector Gadget). Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (who also makes an appearance as a priest) purposely cast Linney and Ruffalo for their different appearances. Both Sammy and Terry have their flaws and their distinct personalities, yet they feel familiar and believable together as siblings.

Good, defined performances by Linney and Ruffalo and Lonergan's script combine to make You Can Count on Me an engrossing experience. Lonergan portrays familial life realistically, replete with both a surprising amount of humor and tense situations. As the movie progresses, Terry and Sammy become more comfortable around each other, yet they still have their issues to work out. Lonergan's characters are ordinary and easy to identify with, but not boring enough to disinterest the viewer. You Can Count on Me is an actor's dream, since its allows a wide variety of emotion without resorting to melodramatics, and there is concrete development and depth to each role.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated R for language, some drug use, and a scene of sexuality.

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