You Can Count on Me

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
November 27, 2000

I sit now in happy contentment as Kenneth Lonergan's directorial debut garners high praise all around. It's a sort of vindication for critics like myself who recognized his screenwriting talent in Analyze This and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle: two films that were greatly under-appreciated by many critics. The latter especially took a beating, and was ignored by audiences. Now, we can all see the human side of Lonergan as he tells his touching story with a fair amount of the humor we have already seen.

Laura Linney stars as Sammy Prescott, a lending officer at a small bank in the comparatively small town of Scottsville, New York. She has raised her 8-year-old son Rudy (Rory Culkin) by herself, thanks to the lenient management at the back. The end of lenience arrives with Brian (Matthew Broderick), the new branch manager who cannot tolerate leaving early or taking long lunch breaks. He is exceptionally hard on Sammy, whom he views as a problem employee.

Her situation becomes seemingly eased when her brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), comes back to town. He's been moving about the country, and even landed in jail for a while. This reunion is soon tainted when Terry reveals that he came to Sammy for some money to get his girlfriend an abortion. She gives him the money, but convinces him to stay and help her take care of Rudy, who has seen very little of his uncle over the years.

Sammy's relationships with Terry and Brian, as well as her occasional boyfriend, Bob (Jon Tenney), evolve in interesting ways, which I will not discuss any further. Some articles about You Can Count on Me have revealed these plot points, which would really spoil the film. Why anyone would want to spoil one of the few really good films out right now is mystifying. The joy of this film lies in this creative story and joining Sammy as her life gets tossed around by all the men in it.

Linney's performance as Sammy is nothing short of a revelation. Most people only know her as the shallow made-for-TV wife of Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, but this film shows the true depth of her talent. Her character is always balancing between comedy and drama, and she keeps the film from falling too far into either category. She keeps this balance with the help of the opposite characters played by Ruffalo and Broderick, who really needed this film after the horror of Inspector Gadget.

You Can Count on Me is a film of small payoffs on a small scale. While this diminution works as a theme, it also keeps the film from getting four stars. The critical moment never came that could have propelled this film into greatness. It was so very close, and could still end up on my top ten list (especially this year, with so few worthy films). It's there right now, in my head, as I wait for something to really break through before this year is over. Until that happens, you can be assured that this is one of the very best films out at the moment, and hopefully it will find its way to theatres across the country.

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You Can Count on Me (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan