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on May 15, 2001
This is the hardest review I'll ever write.
My mother recently committed suicide. My father died seven years ago of cancer. I'm 34 years old, and I am seen by my two sisters as the f-up brother. I can honestly say that I can totally relate to this film.
Laura Linney is dead-on as a sister who is trying to live a "normal" life; work at the bank, pick up the son in her SUV, and believe in God, about 15 years after the sudden tragic death of her parents. Her brother is immature, unreliable, can't hold a job, and smokes an awful lot of pot. She is the "caretaker" in the sibling relationship. But, as the film unveils, she certainly can't take care of herself. And the f-up brother isn't as worthless and stupid and selfish as he is supposed to be.
This is a real film about real people dealing with the extrodinarily frustrating and painful task of carrying on after a tragic family loss. And they go on. They continue, the best they can.
There is dysfunction and then there is dysfunction. Some of us know what a real dysfunctional family is. And we're not whiners. We're heroes. And this film is for us.
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on July 2, 2001
Here are the most compelling reasons to buy this film, especially on DVD:
Words such as "masterpiece" and "genius" are incredibly overused these days, but I'm prepared to make the following statement: The screenplay is a masterpiece and Mark Ruffalo is a genius. (And Laura Linney, bless your soul, you are a damn fine actress.) Let me take a quick crack at supporting this statement, so that you can get on with the business of watching this movie instead of reading my review.
1. THE EDITING: Lonnergan's orginal screenplay chalked up 125 pages, which translates into roughly 125 minutes screen time. AFTER the final edit, Lonnergan RETYPED the screenplay (only a devoted writer and parent would do such a thing) and it yielded 95 pages. Now anyone who has written anything at all can tell you THIS IS SOME MAJOR CUTTING. And for the viewer it means a TIGHT, DIRECT, and WONDERFULLY VISUAL movie. To see what the hell I'm talking about, just check out the crash scene at the beginning of the film and specifically the moment when the policeman struggles to get a word out on the front porch. CUT!! You don't need to see anymore. Lonnergan trusts the audience to put the pieces together and the film moves on. It was at this very early point in the film when I saw it at the theater that I sensed the brilliance to come. And was not let down. You can probably find 20 moments where the scene ends EXACTLY WHERE IT NEEDS TO. (A comparable film in this respect is "Days of Heaven.")
2. BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS. That means complex characters. Characters who are not ALL GOOD or ALL BAD. Characters who behave in predictable and sometimes highly unpredictable ways, much like you and me.
3. SUPERB ACTING. You just don't see such nuanced performances like this every day. Watch Ruffalo carefully. Watch everything he does, even the way he listens to other characters. It's electrifying. His body language is a revelation and his delivery is perfect. I could watch him all day. The first three times I saw the film I was so enthralled by him I almost missed Laura Linney's performance. It is the equal of Ruffalo's.
4. THE SCREENPLAY. Everyone raves about the screenplay, so I've put this section near the end so you won't miss the other great qualities of this film. Lonnergan, I understand, wrote every single itty bitty word in the movie, including all the um and ahs. His appreciation for character is so deep, he KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT THESE CHARACTERS WOULD SAY, AND HOW THEY WOULD SAY IT.
5. THE DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY. The beauty, the absolute beauty of DVDs, is that from time to time you get the director's commentary on the audio track. In this incredibly generous and down-to-earth commentary, Lonnergan drops gem after gem, telling us all manner of large and small things, from insights into the characters, the movie-making process, and the incredibly sappy and small-minded film industry itself, to pointing out which character is his real-life wife (!) and which scenes he had Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo direct!
Final analysis: A must-own DVD. Especially for budding actors, editors, and screenwriters.
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I am glad that "You Can Count on Me," the wonderful film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, was given a higher profile in the wake of its Academy Award nominations. This is a classic "small" film: it takes place entirely in or around a small town, and focuses on a small group of ordinary people. But the emotions of this film are powerful, the story is relevant, and Lonergan gets outstanding performances from a wonderful cast.
Laura Linney plays Sammy, a single mother and bank employee. When her troubled brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) returns to town, Sammy's life and relationship with her young son (Rory Culkin) become complicated by Terry's influence. Sammy has to juggle this domestic situation with controversy at work, where her anal-retentive boss (Matthew Broderick) is making lives miserable.
The story sounds simple, but Lonergan's intelligent script really brings us into the lives of these characters. And the performances truly make this film worth seeing. Linney carries the lead role with passionate grace, and has great chemistry with her screen brother Ruffalo. Broderick delivers a wonderfully multilayered performance as a character who is at times pathetic, at times sympathetic, and at times downright infuriating. And Culkin is a revelation as the young son; this is one of the best performances by a child actor that I have ever seen.
"You Can Count on Me" deals insightfully with a number of relationships: mother/son, brother/sister, boss/employee, pastor/churchgoer, and more. Lonergan deftly blends moments of both heartbreak and hilarity into a richly satisfying whole. If you want to see a serious adult drama with some sparkling comic moments, check out this film--it's one of the year's best.
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Often a film is an escape. It's fantasy with larger-than-life characters. Not so with this small gem. In "You Can Count on Me" we meet real people - people whose lives aren't perfect, whose dreams aren't fancy, and who make mistakes. Nominated for two academy awards in 2000, this can be called a story about relationships. But before you roll your eyes in boredom, thinking this might be too talky, and full of pat psychological answers to every question, just wait. Even if easy answers are not forthcoming, you'll get a chance to glimpse some characters that are so real they could be the neighbors next door or members of your own family.
The key relationship here is between a brother and a sister. Orphaned as children, they've grown up counting on each other. Now they are in their thirties. The sister, Laura Linney, is a single mother of an 8-year-old boy, played by Rory Culkin. She works in a bank in their hometown in Upstate New York, and has made arrangements with her boss to use part of her lunch hour time to pick up her child from school and bring him to a baby sitter. The brother, played by Mark Ruffalo, has left home years before. He's a drifter who always needs money, impulsive and boyish and loveable all at the same time. His young nephew adores him, especially when he takes him to a pool hall one night.
The sister has stuff to contend with. There's a new branch manager Matthew Broderick, where she works, the kind of idiot boss who forces the staff to refrain from using bright colors on their computer screens because it doesn't represent the dignity of a bank. There's her son wanting to know more about his real father than she wants to tell him. And there's a marriage proposal from her long-term boring boyfriend. The brother's arrival is a catalyst for turmoil. How it all plays out is real.
Kenneth Lonergan wrote, directed and even plays a small part of a minister. He's a master of understatement and accuracy of landscape as well as emotions. It's like he just stood back and let the characters drive the plot. It seems simple. It isn't. Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo give performances so fine that they don't even seem to be performing. And young Rory Culkin is perfect as just a regular kid who craves a father figure. The story moves fast, holding my interest throughout. I felt I was right there with these characters and identified with them completely. Highly recommended for everybody. You'll smile wistfully afterwards and think, "yup - that's how life is."
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on October 1, 2002
A small movie set in a small town delivers various big elements including top-notch performances from its two leads, extremely effective character development all around and a poignant message dipped with the importance of love, family, relationships and spirituality. This is obviously not a typical Hollywood picture and surely not for everyone, but definitely one to see for anyone who appreciates superior character studies, feels confused, overwhelmed or bored about their own life, and is curious about the familial foundation which supports this entire movie. This isn't a very upbeat film. It does contain a handful of lighter moments, but is basically a movie that feels sort of somber all the way through but doesn't ever really get boring. The force of the writing is the main reason for that, with the superior performances set forth by all, straddling in as a close second. Major kudos go out to Mark Ruffalo, who completely inhabits his role as the loose younger brother with the knack for getting into trouble, as well as Laura Linney, playing the full role of mother, sister, lover and employee to a tee. The excellent rapport between the two leads also makes you glad to be spending some time with them
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on May 15, 2004
It's a very ordinary movie. But yet, I found myself really enjoying it. And that may have been why I enjoyed it so much. BECAUSE it was ordinary.

The movie is about a brother and sister who are orphaned at a young age, Sammy and Terry. Years later, Terry comes back to the small town they grew up in and where Sammy still lives to ask her for money. A bond between Sammy's son and Terry is born and a rekindling between the brother and sister.

I was glad to be able to watch a movie where the characters were telling the story. I was also glad to watch a movie that focused on the brother-sister relationship because it's something not a lot of movies dwell in these days. I thought the writing and dialouge were fantastic, which is to be expected from talent Kenneth Lonergan (see the manuscript for "This Is Our Youth"). It felt so natural. There are a lot of golden moments and scenes (the bus stop, the lunch scene especially) worth noting.

But the highest point of this movie was the acting. Laura Linney was great. She was absolute perfect as Sammi. Matthew Broderick is also great. Rory Kulkin is without a doubt the Kulkin Kid that has a real future in Hollywood (if you listen to the director's commentary and hear the way Lonergan talks about Rory Kulkin, you get a genuine feeling that he takes acting incredibly seriously and to do that at a young age is phenomenal to me). But the actor that really stood out for me was Mark Ruffalo. He was amazing as the wayward brother, Terry. He has a very magnetic quality and I think it's due to the fact that you don't feel like you are watching Mark Ruffalo, the actor, but the character. He, along with everyone else, never over-acts. It's again ... natural.

And that's the element that appealed to me most. Everything is natural. And maybe to some natural is boring. But to me it was refreshing and heartfelt.
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on August 7, 2001
When a movie takes on the most ordinary, potentially mundane of situations and turns it into an experience that is nothing less than wholly enthralling, you know you're in the presence of one of the year's very best films. Kenneth Lonergan's 'You Can Count On Me,' which along with Spike Jonze's 'Being John Malkovich' may be the most impressive directorial debut I've ever seen, is that kind of a movie. It starts from the most limited resources imaginable, and by sheer virtue of its modesty proceeds to pull off the kind of miraculous, emotionally resonant storytelling that reduces Hollywood garbage like 'Stepmom' to shame.
Terry (Mark Ruffalo) and Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney) are a brother and sister who have shared a unique bond ever since their parents died in a car crash years ago. Sammy is now a single mother who works at a bank in a small New York town, while her brother has become something of a ne'er-do-well'a leech and a freewheeler who's constantly hitting his sister up for money. After a long absence, Terry comes home to visit'and that sets the film in motion.
There are no jarring plot twists, no unrealistic turns of character, no ridiculous leaps of logic to bring this scenario to a tidy resolution. 'You Can Count On Me' is too intelligent to treat these characters as anything less than human beings, and too honest to resort to the coy emotional pandering that passes for today's 'family' dramas. What the film does, with a display of patience and restraint that is almost stunning in its rarity, is sit back and observe these people interact. Blessed by Lonergan's uncanny ear for realistic, articulate dialogue (no cliched soundbytes or glib one-liners here), 'You Can Count On Me' plumbs such intimate depths of truth, humor and drama you feel positively grateful for being allowed to share in these people's lives.
That's due in no small part to the two central actors, who create a sibling relationship that's so painfully funny and real it has to be seen to be believed. Linney has had diabolical supporting roles in other films ('The Truman Show' and 'The House of Mirth'), but it took a small little movie like this to reveal the full expanse of her powers. Her acting is seamless, touching upon so many different nuances, and with such little effort, that it's easy to underestimate the consummate skill behind it. Make no mistake; this is one actress we will be seeing plenty more of, and I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Linney won a rackful of Oscars in the future to compensate for the one Julia Roberts stole from her. No less impressive are Ruffalo, whose performance drew comparisons to Brando--Brando, for heaven's sake--and Rory Culkin, as Sammy's son.
Watching Lonergan's film, I was reminded of Mike Leigh's masterpiece 'Secrets and Lies,' which similarly dealt with an entire spectrum of human emotions using the gentlest of approaches. Lonergan is a very different filmmaker, but just as sure-footed. One of his many masterstrokes is to withhold until the end the true meaning of the title, which at first glance might seem unnecessarily drippy. It isn't. Only in a final scene as poignant as it is understated do we fully understand the title's significance, and the full meaning of what Lonergan has imparted to us through this beautiful, bountiful film.
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on March 29, 2001
Relationships and the problems faced by people just trying to get through the day and make some sense of their lives is explored in "You Can Count On Me," written and directed by Ken Lonergan. The story focuses on Samantha "Sammy" Prescott (Laura Linney), a single mother living in a small town in New York State, who has worked at the same bank for seven years while raising her son, Rudy (Rory Culkin), on her own. Then one day her brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), whom she has not seen for sometime, shows up. He moves in with Sammy and Rudy, and for awhile provides Sammy with some help, especially with Rudy; it's a welcome respite from juggling her work schedule and trying to do it all herself. And it takes some of the pressure off, as her new boss, Brian Everett (Matthew Broderick), is a stickler who takes exception to Sammy having to leave early every day to pick up her son from school. At about this same time, however, an on-again-off-again relationship Sammy has had with a man named Bob Stegerson (Jon Tenney) begins to get complicated, while the situation at home starts to tweak in the wake of some questionable decisions made by Terry that involve Rudy. And-- as if all that weren't enough-- inexplicably, at work sparks suddenly begin to fly between Sammy and Brian.
Lonergan does an excellent job of bringing his story to life. The Screenplay is well written and intelligent, and offers some real insight into the human condition by embracing the very flaws and foibles of which we are all endowed, and which we all must deal with in one way or another in our own lives. It's an engrossing, emotionally gripping film that presents very real characters and situations, and one of it's strengths is in the honesty, of not only the actions, but the "reactions" of the people playing out the drama. And it's that genuine sincerity at the core of the story that makes this film so effective and believable. Well directed and acted, it's quite simply an affecting and memorable film.
Laura Linney has never been better than she is here, and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Sammy. She has a thorough grasp of the character that makes her real-- this imperfect woman and mother coping with the stress in her life and just trying to do the best she can and what she thinks is right. Her portrayal acknowledges Sammy's strengths and vulnerability, as well as the fact that people change and relationships evolve; that what may have been right for her a year ago isn't necessarily what she needs today. Sammy is a complex character, and Linney convincingly takes her through a wide range of emotional levels that evokes empathy for her and makes her someone you care about.
Terry is a complex character as well, a young man with a good heart, lacking perhaps some personal direction, but whose biggest fault may be that he cares too much and feels too deeply. And Ruffalo plays him perfectly. Like a young Brando, he hits every note just right in bringing Terry to life. He has a natural, charismatic and extremely engaging screen presence, and he is absolutely terrific in this role. He's a gifted actor from whom we can expect great things in the future.
Also giving a solid performance is the always reliable Broderick, who admirably continues to take some career chances with roles such as this one, as he did with the part of the teacher, Jim McAllister, in "Election." In both cases, they are ordinary yet flawed characters who are not necessarily ingratiating in any way, but as played by Broderick they are at least people to whom one can definitely relate.
The supporting cast includes Ken Lonergan (Ron), Gaby Hoffman (Sheila), Kim Parker (Rudy Sr.'s Girlfriend) and Josh Lucas (Rudy Sr.). With "You Can Count On Me," Lonergan delivers a tender and poignant story with something of a wistful ending, the impact of which is enhanced by the very reality of it's characters and situations. And there are humorous moments, as well, that evolve naturally from the story, just as they do in real life. In the end, this is transporting drama with which many will be able to identify, for the roads it travels are the same ones many of those who see it will have been down themselves.
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on December 11, 2000
Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a film here that will be studied for years by film school types, enjoyed by audiences, and surely receive an Oscar nod. The question is how to take a nice story and elevate it to the level of a truly great film. The answer is in the talent and artistry of those involved. From the acting to the editing, Lonergan delivers a film that is lean, muscular and as close to perfect as you're likely to see all year.
Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney, Truman's wife in The Truman Show) is a tightly wound single mother working at a bank in a sleepy little town in upper New York. Her brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) on the other hand is the sort of drifter that the family only sees on every third Thanksgiving, earning enough money from the odd construction job to get him through to the next adventure in Alaska or Florida or wherever he may find himself. Despite this, the two remain close after a car crash killed their parents when they were teenagers. And when Terry announces his return home, Sammy is ecstatic. Not only does she look forward to seeing him but her son Rudy (Rory Culkin, Macaulay's little brother) could really use a guy around for a while. And of course that's where the trouble starts.
Now on the surface, this is your standard 'Bad boy returns to a small town and shakes things up' set up, but it grows into something else that we rarely see: a true to life portrait of a brother-sister relationship. When Terry admits that he really came back to borrow some money, Sammy lets loose on him in a restaurant but the beauty is the build up. Lonergan's script perfectly conveys that awkwardness of seeing a family member after a long time away and the acting is simply superb all around. As the story progresses and Terry bonds with her son, we see Sammy start to revert back to her wilder days, having a giddy affair with her new (and married) boss at the bank (Matthew Broderick in his second real adult role). Terry, meanwhile, relates to 8 year old Rudy like a drinking buddy, making him promise he won't tell his mom about their little clandestine trip to the local pool hall. Of course he's also infuriatingly unreliable and often misguided in his attempts to treat the boy with the respect you feel he may have been missing as a child. Through all the bickering though, there's so much deep seated emotion between the three of them that it's sometimes painful just to watch.
This story would also lend itself to melodramatic speeches and weepy musical interludes, but Lonergan's direction is a study in restraint. In one scene, Terry tries to console Sammy: "You remember what we used to say when we were kids? You remember?" She mumbles, "Yeah, I remember" and hugs him, but it's never revealed to us. He's taken each scene and whittled it down to the very essence, where a tug at Sammy's clothing, or an outstretched arm holding a fishing pole takes the place of pages of dialogue. The effect is a marvelously paced and plotted film that can spend it's time on the things that are important, not on beating the emotions out of us with a club. And in this weak year for movie lovers, it's a refreshingly welcome surprise.
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on March 21, 2001
I and and friend happened upon this movie by chance, as we had planed on seeing something else. However, we were both delighted with the movie, actors, plot etc. I am just sorry that this picture was not promomted better than it was. So many of my friends had not even heard of it prior to the Acadamy Awards. Too bad. See it if you get the chance, as I think it is certainly worth the price of admission!
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