You Can Count On Me
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Laura Linney, and Matthew Broderick
Director:

Kenneth Lonergan

Writer:

Kenneth Lonergan

Distributor: Paramount Classics * 111 minutes
Rated: R for language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
  (USA 2000)

In the theatre, artists are often aware that, no matter how good your actors, directors, sets, lights, costumes, makeup, or marketing are, there's only one triusm that matters..."the play's the thing." Writers are at the core of every dramatic success; while other artists are just as important to the process of making a play, it's nearly impossible to create great art with a bad script.

Hollywood, unlike the theatre, has frequently forgotten this maxim. And while special effects, bravura performances, or editing may be able to disguise a film's weakness, it is easier for Free Willy to pass through the eye of a needle than for a bad screenplay to win an Oscar.

Kenneth Lonergan, who first found fame as a playwright, serves as both director AND writer of his joyful debut film, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME. With any luck, the film's award-winning success will be a wake-up call to the film community. Lonergan knows that a good story is of primary importance, and his simple, uncluttered screenplay should be a textbook for aspiring screenwriters everywhere.

The biggest surprise of YOU CAN COUNT ON ME may be that very little happens...Sammy (Laura Linney), a single mother in a small town, awaits the arrival of her beloved, irresponsible brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo). As a perennial loser, Terry just can't get his life together...even when taking care of his nephew (Rory Culkin). As the button-downed woman who sees her life slowly slipping away from her, Sammy must fend off both a sensitive man who wants to marry her (Jon Tenney) and her insensitive, married boss (Matthew Broderick).

What's special about YOU CAN COUNT ON ME is that, like Chekhov or Arthur Miller, it's the characters, and not the plot twists, that move you. Laura Linney, who should have been a star long before now, is always radiant; as Sammy, she taps into an engaging softness previously unseen in her work. Both delicate and vulnerable, Linney is able to transform Sammy into a woman confident of herself and her place in the world. The awards she won for this role are more than deserved.

As great as Linney is, however, the truly stunning performance is that of Ruffalo, a great new talent bursting upon the Hollywood scene. Ruffalo is an actor of extraordinary depth and range -- he brings to mind, in different scenes, the work of Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, and even Jimmy Stewart. Subtlety is his strongest asset; he makes the almost implausible moods swings that Terry experiences seem natural and affecting. Ruffalo is one to watch; in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, he makes the entire film work.

Rory Culkin, youngest brother of MacCauley, is surprisingly good as Linney's young son. His scenes with Ruffalo are tragi-comic gems, as good as you'll see on film. Broderick, whose character goes through more shifts than the rest of the cast combined, is merely adequate. Likewise, Tenney's in-touch suitor isn't inhabited fully by the actor.

Gentle pleasures are the strength of YOU CAN COUNT ON ME; it invigorates one's love of movies even as it reaffirms the simplest of values. Discover its joys for yourself.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2000 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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