Netflix Update No. 10: “You Can Count on Me.”

June 8, 2009



We watched Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 film “You Can Count on Me,” which explores a theme not often treated in movies — the relationship between a grown brother and sister. In this case, the siblings are “Sammy” Prescott, played by Laura Linney, and Terry Prescott, played by Mark Ruffalo. In the opening scene, which occurs while Sammy and Terry are children, their parents are killed in a highway accident. When we next see Sammy, she is the single mother of an eight year old boy, Rudy, played by Rory Culkin, still living in the family home in an upstate New York town. She is eagerly anticipating one of the infrequent visits she receives from Terry – who has become a pot-smoking, hot-tempered but charismatic wanderer. The visit does not go well for several reasons, including Terry’s influence on Rudy, his unreliability, and his meddling in Rudy’s ignorance about his biological father.



Sammy works as a loan officer at the local branch of a larger banking company, and her comfortable situation there is disturbed by the arrival of a new manager, Brian Everitt, played by Matthew Broderick. Brian fusses about Sammy’s practice of sacrificing some of her lunch time in exchange for running out at 3:30 every afternoon to pickup Rudy at the school bus stop. Brian’s concern with this issue seems to be a symptom of a supercilious management style and a lack of leadership skills. His relationship with Sammy seems inevitably headed toward termination, but forces in both of their private lives sends them in a direction that Sammy, at least, would not have expected.

Sammy’s only “romantic” interest is in Bob Steegerson, played by Jon Tenney, but this appears to be a match with no direction.



Well, those are the facts of a story that Lonergan wrote and that Lonergan tells very well. I recall reading an essay when I was in college that made the point that the American genius resides in process rather than in product — which, if it was ever true, may have dissipated in the past couple of decades. But what is fascinating about this film is that Lonergan — who, incidentally, gives an effective performance in the movie as a minister who counsels both Sammy and Terry — focuses on the lives these folks are actually living, not on the resolutions either he or we might imagine or hope for them. He assures us of one thing, that Sammy and Terry love each other unconditionally. But he doesn’t make any heavy-handed attempt to explain the siblings’ present predicaments in terms of the early loss of their parents, and instead — what is of more value — leaves us to speculate about that based on what he reveals about their experiences and their inner lives. He leaves us thinking that everything could turn out all right for these characters, but he gives us no more assurance about that than we have about our own near or distant futures.



All of the performances are exemplary, and it would have been hard to cast a more appealing trio than Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick. Rory Culkin was a remarkable actor at 11, about the age he was when he made this film. He has a haunted and haunting look that is exposed in several closeups. If we can believe what we read on the IMDb web site, Lonergan had trouble getting the boy to smile or laugh on camera; if so, that serious side of his personality served him well here.

This film was nominated for two Oscars and it won several awards, and none of that is surprising.


One Response to “Netflix Update No. 10: “You Can Count on Me.””

  1. V.E.G. Says:

    Laura Linney is a distant cousin of man from the Vanderbilt University, Dewey Wesley Grantham!

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