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You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan) 2000

You Can Count on Me is an okay film, but it's certainly not worthy of all the praise it's been getting (It won the audience award at Sundance and the buzz has been deafening). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the film simply isn't that special. 

Ken Lonergan wrote and directed (for the first time) this film about a brother (Mark Ruffalo) and sister (Laura Linney) who have friction due to the different paths they chose in life. The film opens with their parents dying in an automobile accident, but the film's not about mourning... in fact the parents' death is barely mentioned again throughout the film. This suggests that the death should be an undercurrent in examining the sibling's problems, but it doesn't really mesh for me. Linney's character lives at home (upstate New York) with her 8 year old son (some Culkin), and works at a bank where a new manager (Matthew Broderick) has just begun working. Her life is turned on end when her brother sends a letter announcing his visit. The film shows the events that happen during this visit, as the brother and son develop their relationship, Linney sorts out her love life, and tries to put her brother back on track. 

There seems to be a great deal of buzz regarding Mark Ruffalo's performance. I really thought his performance was quite distracting. He uses a style similar to early Brando, filled with mannerisms that makes him seem wildly out of place with the rest of the actors. He's not awful, but he doesn't seem like someone who "belongs" in this movie. Linney does a bit better, but hardly sets the world on fire.

The main problem with the film is that there's not a real sense of conflict. The parents die uneventfully, and we skip ahead a dozen or so years. Linney's relationships don't really amount to anything (the fact that they never will is apparent from the start). If anything, the major conflict is between the ideals of the sister (who believes she should stay in her home town and live a 'normal' life) and the brother (who is a drifter that really doesn't expect anything from life or plan anything). The film's tone is sedate but comic. None of the jokes really fall flat, and the characters are likable. The film's not particularly well-shot, and there is a rather repetitive, distracting score. The film's just pretty inconsequential as an entry in the "You-can't-go-home-again" genre, and compares poorly to stuff like Five Easy Pieces

***

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman