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You Can Count On Me

By Jenny Bootle

To describe something as a modest, family drama hardly sounds like a recommendation, but You Can Count on Me (2000) is a remarkable film.

The story opens with a car crash and the sudden death of a couple, the parents to two young children, before we leap forward twenty-five years to see brother and sister, Terry (Mark Ruffalo) and Sammy (Laura Linney), now grown-up.

Sammy is a hard-working single mother, living in the same house in the small town she and Terry grew up in. She goes to church, has a job at the local bank and focuses on providing stability for her solemn 8-year old son, Rudy (played by Rory Culkin). When Terry, a well-meaning drifter, just out of jail, comes back to visit, she is delighted. Terry begins to bond with his nephew until his irresponsible actions compel Sammy to ask him to leave.

The plot of this film could be the description of a made-for-TV movie but writer and director Kenneth Lonergan’s graceful script elevates it into something significant, offering a compelling portrait of two siblings driven in different directions by the shared events of their childhood – one who doesn’t care and one who cares too much – and the deep bonds that still leave them unable to properly connect.

Sammy adores Terry and has a faith in him that he doesn’t have in himself. Their different life philosophies are beautifully expressed when they meet again for the first time in a restaurant. Sammy tries to persuade Terry to start going to church and questions the direction his life is going in. Terry responds with: “I’m not really looking for anything, man. I’m just trying to get on with it.”

Terry and Rudy on their disastrous fishing trip

One of my favourite scenes of the film shows a conversation between Terry and Rudy, when Terry, just back from the local bar, crashes into Rudy’s room late one night. They talk about Terry’s dislike of the town and Rudy’s absent father. Terry, still in some ways childlike himself, speaks to Rudy as if he were his peer, in an earnest and funny exchange.

The film won a ream of awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and nominations for both Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Writing and Best Actress. Linney and Ruffalo are both amazing actors and truly shine in these roles.

Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) 

The movie never makes the mistake of straying into melodrama; one of its triumphs is in what it chooses not to show. In the opening scenes we see Sammy and Terry’s parents chatting in the moments before the truck hits their car and the following scene of the policeman knocking on the children's front door, ends with his open-mouthed pause as he struggles for words to break the news of the accident. Finally, in the film's closing scene - one that manages to be simultaneously heartening and heart-breaking - the concluding line is given to Terry, who asks Sammy a question. As the audience we never get to hear the answer but, precisely how some things between family members remain true but never spoken, we don't need to be told what it is, we just instinctively know.

For more information visit You Can Count on Me's official IMDB page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0203230