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Movie Review

You Can Count On Me

MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Relevant Issues
Matthew Broderick and Laura Linney in “You Can Count On Me”

What does the Bible say about adultery? Answer

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships? Answer

What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

Sex, Love and Relationships
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Christian answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more. Valuable resources for Christian couples, singles and pastors.
Featuring: Jon Tenney, Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin
Director: Ken Lonergan, Kenneth Lonergan
Producer: Larry Meistrich, Barbara De Fina, Jeff Sharp, John Hart
Distributor: TSG Pictures

The upstate New York landscape of “You Can Count On Me” is as vast and green as a Thomas Cole painting, but there is a smoky mist that envelops the view. The optimistic rays of light that bathe the figures of the Hudson River paintings are gone. The movie’s light is diffused and cloudy, as undirected as the lives of the characters who inhabit the countryside’s rolling hills.

Mark Ruffalo and Rory Culkin in “You Can Count On Me” Sammy (Laura Linney) is an unwed mother of an eight year old son. She is preparing for a visit from her brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo). Sammy has remained in the house she and Terry grew up in before and after the car accident that killed their parents. Terry is a rootless drifter whose main reason for returning home is to hit his sister up for money. After arriving in town and discovering that he has no place to return to after his visit he decides to stay on. The distance between brother and sister has widened since their previous separation. Their attempts to reconnect are clumsy and disjointed. The gulf narrows through anger, argument and compromise. The most skillfully played scenes in the movie are the ones between brother and sister. The writer-director, Kenneth Lonergen, and the actors have a good understanding of the nuances and the edges of a sibling relationship, getting the pace and the rhythm of the connection down just right. Brother and sister are able to see the worst in each other’s existence but despite the flaws they still have a great affection for each other.

Laura Linney as Sammy in “You Can Count On Me” Terry develops a bond, a somewhat tenuous one, with Sammy’s son, Rudy, Jr. Terry’s attempts to indoctrinate Rudy,Jr. into manhood are both touching and frightening. Sentiment collides with danger to give a vivid portrait of two people at risk as they try to overcome their wounds and develop a bond. In the meantime, Sammy tries to bring some stability to Terry’s life, but her own troubles keep getting in the way of her efforts. Although she is devoted to her son, her home and her job, she is plagued by a wanderlust similar to her brother’s. Her relationships with men are not complex: she gets close; she backs away. She plays the naughty girl at night; she regrets and repents the next day. The emotions behind her behavior are not explored so the relationships lack the tension and the force of the brother-sister scenes. She has an on-again, off-again boyfriend who appears intermittently, but he never takes shape. he’s too poorly defined to bring any understanding to who he is or why Sammy is even temporarily drawn to him. He follows every statement with a self-conscious snicker, which initially distracting, ultimately becomes annoying. While still involved with her boyfriend, Sammy has a ravenous but emotionally detached affair with her boss, Brian (Matthew Broderick), an obsessive-compulsive narcissist. The romance goes nowhere. There are no clues as to how the affair affects Sammy and Brian, their respective families (Brian’s wife is pregnant), or even their co-workers. We are given a brief glimpse of Larry, Sr., the father of Sammy’s son. He makes the other two guys look sterling by comparison. One can only wonder what she was thinking of, not so much when, where and how she got involved with such a guy (there are too many clues to be surprised by that slip-up) but why she would name her son after him. Did she at one time love and respect him or did she just want a reminder of how even the good things in her life were the products of some bad beginning?

The film explores the effect of tragedy on human existence. Terry and Sammy lost their parents tragically at a young age. Their adult lives are shaped by that tragedy. They struggle, often unsuccessfully, to keep their lives from becoming defined by loss. The narrative, although often uneven, has the confidence seen often in French cinema (I was reminded of Truffaut’s early work: “Antoine and Collette” and “Bed and Board”), but rarely in American films, to allow the relationship to unfold slowly and naturally without the crises or climaxes or top-40 soundtrack flourishes that have become staples of most of today’s dramas.

Laura Linney gives a strong unsentimental performance. Her facial expressions are more reserved than they’ve been in her other work. She seems toned down here, but each glance and gesture is perfectly realized and timed. She blends Sammy’s rough edges and her warm spirit into a coherent understandable whole. Even better is Mark Ruffalo as Terry. Ruffalo deftly and subtly plays Terry as a noble spirit strangled by bad choices, bad drugs and bad luck. He doesn’t allow his character to break through those chains as much as wrestle with their growing weight.

Promiscuous sexual activity, adultery and recreational drug use play major roles in the film’s plot. The price paid for these flaws is made evident. There are occasions in the film when Sammy turns to a priest for advice. His denomination is unclear but his aura and speech are distinctively Roman Catholic. This perplexed me because the family church appears to be of another denomination early in the film. The scenes with the priest are the most awkward in the film. He doesn’t advance the story; he stops it dead every time he shows up. He was as much use to Sammy and Terry as the policeman in “Psycho” was to the characters that were trying to find a lost sister. A useless addition, he doesn’t help them find anything. The priest’s final advice to Sammy is nothing more than a frown and a shrug of the shoulders. I’m not sure what he’s doing in the movie. I admire Lonergen for presenting a religious figure that isn’t a buffoon, a pornographer, a pedophile or a conspirator, but he seems unwilling to flesh him out and make him human. This certainly isn’t a big step forward for religion or religious figures in film. But for once, a priest is not presented as a villain. I suppose a half step forward is better than the continual backward drift evident in most commercial films.

“You Can Count On Me” seems to seek a religious core but, like its rootless characters, seems afraid of finding what it looks for. Nonethelesss, the brother-sister relationship depicted in the film is permeated with warmth and compassion. It is a flawed but touching personal film.


Viewer Comments
The title of this film could have been “You can’t count on me”. This story of 2 siblings who cannot find a shred of character in their need to mutually support each other only reinforces the need for a spiritual solution to life based on Christ. Unfortunately, the film can only cough up the opposite in a scene where the pastor is being sought for advice and can only wag his head in seeming powerlessness to address major life issues. I saw this movie because the reviewer talked of a delightful directorial debut and astounding subtleness in the interaction of the main characters. I now conclude I cannot believe any reviews I read except the ones in resources like this Web site that are patently Christian. Hollywood, and by extension our culture, has gone over the line and should be regarded as untrustworthy considering the superlative comments they garner for their films which too often contain scenes of sexual intercourse, the use of God’s name in vain, the total ineffectualness of faith in God and imply the use of drugs is nothing serious. …I will say the film delivers in total believability, the fact that without moral conviction, life’s tough side can eat away at us and make us into powerless victims. What is terrible in this movie on top of the gratuitous graphic sex scene and the implication of sex in several other scenes is that the sister pleas with her brother that he should look to God for answers to his life which is spiraling out of control in a death spin. All the while she is having an affair with her boss, who by the way has a pregnant wife. One way they seem to find to soothe their mutual pain is by using drugs together. Now on top of all of this misguidedness in the adults, the 8 year old Culkin is treated to various 4 letter words directly to his face. Some movies will go to the effort to panning to the adult in the movie when adults verbally attack children so we are at least left with the possibility that the child actor might not have had to have listened to the verbal grossness but unless they used some special effects, the poor kid is spared nothing here. If all this is not enough, their is a violent fight scene. Then of course there are numerous uses of the Lord’s name in vain in addition to the liberalness of 4 letter words. Before the movie was half over I was about to get up and walk out but decided to stay in order to write this review. The only reason I don’t give this film an extremely offensive rating is because Hannibal has brought us to a new all time low in movie going. The reviewer I read, Stephen Holden of the New York Times, is correct in seeing the artistic side of this film as out of the ordinary and I fear many Christians may believe this makes up for the seedy side of these types of films. You might find this hypocritical since I conclude the opposite for the film “Girl, Interrupted”. What this films lacks that “Girl, Interrupted” does not, is a clear statement of the cause of the problems the screen is offering us. We are therefore not brought to the point where we examine the true insanity of trying to lead life apart from a loving and just Saviour. Due to the gratuitous sex scenes, the violence, use of drugs and contempt for God, I would not recommend this film to anyone except perhaps to an intern in marriage and family counseling if they didn’t have enough exposure to dysfunctional family situations.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4]
—Bob MacLean, age 51
After seeing “You Can Count On Me”, I was moved at the fact that people are moved towards redemption and reconciliation. This is what the movie is about. Often, people focus on the negative elements of a movie (sex, violence, language, etc.) rather than looking beyond them and focusing on a well-made movie. Laura Linney gives a great performance as a mother and sister who is relied upon very heavily. She helps to steer the story in the direction of redemption. Even though she engages in premarital sex and an adulterous relationship, at the end, she realizes her mistakes and wants change and forgiveness. She has helped so many people in her life that she has become inable to ask for it. She wants forgiveness from everyone in her life and to be able to still help others. With all the trash that is out there, “You Can Count On Me” stands on its own as a great movie that won’t be recognized for anything even though it was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. If you want to see an realistic picture of the good and bad elements of life, see this movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Tim Meyers, age 21