Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Can Count on Me Counts on Superb Characters

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 38 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

You Can Count on Me (2000)
Running time: 111 minutes (1 hour 51 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some drug use, and a scene of sexuality
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan
PRODUCER: Barbara De Fina, John N. Hart, Larry Meistrich, and Jeffrey Sharp
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen Kazmierski
EDITOR: Anne McCabe
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney, J. Smith-Cameron, Gaby Hoffman, and Adam LeFevre

Laura Linney (The Truman Show) earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as a single mother whose life is thrown into turmoil when her drifter brother (Mark Ruffalo) returns to their hometown in Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me. There is a standard and easy way to describe this film, a real movie about real people with real emotions – no supermodels, no disease of the week with actors emoting contrived hysterics, just a film where the actors act like real people.

Lonergan, the screenwriter of Analyze This, is a first time director who also earned an Oscar nomination for this screenplay. He helms this film with the verve of a master. Surprisingly for a character piece, this film possesses the viewer’s attention with a spell like that of a classic suspense thriller, yet this is an intensely driven character piece.

Eschewing any kind of standard plot line that one would usually find in movies, Lonergan focus his story on Samantha “Sammy” Prescott (Ms. Linney) and her brother Terry (Rufflalo). Even without a plot, the film is still “about something,” the deeply felt relationship and bond of need between the siblings. As soon as the two meet for the first time on screen, Lonergan reveals the status quo of their relationship. What the movie is about is the urgent need for that relationship to evolve.

Ms. Linney isn’t alone in her outstanding performance. Anxious, confused, and weary, Ruffalo (Ride with the Devil) deftly draws us completely into his world. As Sammy’s son Rudy, Rory Culkin turns in a nice performance, and leaves us wanting more.

Although his characters occasionally seem stuck in the rut of their angst and pain, Lonergan gives us the kind of character-driven piece that puts you right inside the characters. You Can Count on Me is feels so much like real life that you understand that what we see on the screen is a small part of a larger story. And this chapter is so good that you can’t help but care for what happens past the fade out.

9 of 10

2001 Academy Awards: 2 nominations for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Laura Linney) and “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Kenneth Lonergan)

2001 Golden Globes: 2 nominees “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Laura Linney) and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Kenneth Lonergan)

2001 Independent Spirit Awards: 2 wins for “Best First Feature” Kenneth Lonergan (director), John Hart (producer), Jeff Sharp (producer), Barbara De Fina (producer), and Larry Meistrich (producer) and “Best Screenplay” (Kenneth Lonergan); and 3 nominations for “Best Debut Performance” (Rory Culkin), “Best Female Lead” (Laura Linney), and “Best Male Lead” (Mark Ruffalo)

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