Film Commentary [1-9-01]
Sibling Drama - - You Can Count on Me
Genre: Drama
Grade = B+


The film is set in a picturesque small town in upstate New York where the parents of the main characters are promptly killed off in the first thirty seconds. This sets the scene for the film as the movie shifts to 16 years later. Sammy (Laura Linney - The Truman Show) is now a single mother of an eight-year-old boy Rudy (Rory Culkin) and the loan manager at the local bank. She and Rudy live in the same house she grew up in. Sammy receives news that her younger brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) is returning home for a visit. Terry is a drifter with a troubled past and it seems that he is returning home to escape it.

Meanwhile, Sammy's bank gets a new general manager named Brian (Matthew Broderick). He quickly becomes the bane of her existence, constantly leaving Post-its on her computer to see him in his office. Brian is a jerk who has decided that the best way to turn the bank around is through a process of micro-management. This includes dictating what color the employees can choose for their computer screen desktops. He even wants them to turn in their time sheets on a daily basis. "Won't that make for more paperwork," Sammy quips? "I like paperwork," he states with an unexpressive deadpan. This is the beginning of a struggle between them that will be fought throughout the term of the film.

Terry continues to act as the black sheep of the small family. Even though he is entrusted with caring for Rudy after he gets out of school as well as babysitting, he possesses dubious parenting skills. This including taking Rudy out to a local bar to shoot pool while Sammy is out seeing her boyfriend. These actions, as well as others eventually result in the concluding conflict of the film.

This is the first film of director and writer Ken Lonergan and is truly impressive for a first effort. What makes the film interesting is the family that is portrayed. No mother or father, they are conveniently killed off at the beginning of the film. Instead we see a family that consists of a brother and sister and her boy. Something there is a real chance of seeing in the real world. We are not spoon-fed. We are not given a happy ending. We never actually learn why Terry is so troubled or what the final outcome for the characters are in the end.

This may be a glorified Sunday night TV movie with some depth and intensive character study, but it sometimes is a relief to see a more or less normally dysfunctional family. This family is dysfunctional not through drugs, sex or incest but from ordinary people having mundane problems and screwing up in an ordinary way. I am so tired of seeing films about drug addicts, psychologically disturbed females, films with a gay agenda or Hollywood loony left politics that preach at you. They are becoming quite tiresome.

It is also refreshing that Matthew Broderick is playing the heavy for the first time. Not that he portrays his character as particularly mean but instead as an annoying an pretentious anal-retentive jerk. He manages to embody in his performance every annoying superior that I have ever worked for. Including the barely veiled contemp he has for those working under him. This is one of his better performances and more along the line of 1999's Election.

Rory Culkin looks eerily similar to his older brother Macaulay, but unlike a majority of child actors he is capable of portraying his character as other than your garden variety American brat. He can actually act. However, the best performance is from Mark Ruffalo, who manages the right mix of depth and complexity between his character's basic humanity and his inability to come to grips with his parents death as the basis of his problems. Also adding to the film is the performance of Allan Gill as the local cop portrayed as a regular nice guy but nobody's fool. A character to the contrary of most Hollywood films were most small town cops are portrayed as narrow-minded redneck, racist fascists. Ken Lonergan even manages to add his own humorous performance as Sammy's minister to whom she goes for advise and attempts to mediate the differences between the siblings.

The film does possess a number of plot holes, like when Terry manages to go from looking like a strung-out addict the day he shows up in town to being clean cut and having a construction job the next day to which he never seems to return. Nor did I particularly believe the love affair that springs out of nowhere between Sammy and her boss Brian (not a spoiler, it was in the trailer). Neither did the siblings make a convincing looking brother and sister. Sammy is tall, thin and blond while Terry is shorter with dark hair and complexion. Additionally, the story and the dialog was a little choppy in places.

This is a good film, but not nearly as great as all the film critics would lead you to believe. It is also not a film for everyone, as it is a character drama with no special effects, drugs, overt nudity or sex, nor crass vulgarity, do not expect it to appeal to anyone under the age of thirty (unless they are a film student).


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