Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
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
|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|
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.
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.
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.