“‘Count’ Me In”
by Scott Mantz

“You Can Count on Me”
Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Hold me tight! Laura Linney gives a gripping performance in “You Can Count on Me”

If good things come in small packages, then Kenneth Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me” is one mighty good thing. Despite the lack of so-called A-list “talent” and flashy special effects, the film still manages to pack a more genuine emotional wallop than just about anything to come out of the Hollywood hit machine in ages. Thanks to a great script and top-notch acting, “You Can Count on Me” delivers the goods and turns out to be one of the most touching and memorable movie experiences of the year.

After a devastating car crash kills their parents, Samantha “Sammy” Prescott (Laura Linney) and her brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) grow up and grow apart. These days, Sammy is a single mother working as a bank loan officer in her hometown, while Terry wanders the country in a doped-out stupor and can’t seem to get his act together. Terry pays Sammy an unexpected visit, and she learns quickly why she lost contact with her irresponsible, trouble-making brother in the first place. During their brief time together, Sammy and Terry try to accept their differences, but they also learn that while you may not be able to pick your family, family is all you have.

There aren’t too many movies that capture the conflict of sibling relationships as realistically as “You Can Count on Me.” The film is all about acceptance, redemption, and forgiveness. Or better yet, the film plays out like that famous Alcoholics Anonymous prayer, which goes “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and above all, the wisdom to know the difference.” In this case, there isn’t a whole lot that Sammy and Terry can do to change each other, so they just have to accept each other for who they are, faults and all.

Laura Linney may be best known as Jim Carrey’s faux wife from “The Truman Show,” but thanks to her spectacular performance in “You Can Count on Me,” that’s about to change. Like Renee Zellweger in “Nurse Betty,” she proves that she can easily display a gamut of emotions, and in one of the film’s best scenes–following a passionate romp with her very stuffy (and very married) boss–she does it all in just a few seconds. It’s an exhilarating moment–one that any actress would kill for, and one that is sure to be practiced in acting classes alongside anything that Tennessee Williams ever came up with.

Complimenting Linney in every sense of the word is Mark Ruffalo. He has the rugged macho appeal of a “Streetcar”-ish Marlon Brando, but he balances it out with a reckless sensitivity that keeps you guessing what he’s going to do next. Sure, he means well, but his trouble-making nature is further proof that sometimes you just can’t change a leopard’s spots.

Rounding out the cast are Rory Culkin (as in Macaulay’s brother), who plays Linney’s smart-ass, wise-beyond-his-years son with incredible talent (what is it with this family?), while Matthew Broderick, in a role not that far removed from his conniving teacher from “Election,” plays Linney’s anal-retentive boss with frustrating narrow-mindedness (one look at him, and you know he voted for Bush).

“You Can Count on Me” may simply be a slice-of-life film, but, oh, what a delicious slice it is! By sticking close to the basics about writing, about acting, and most of all, about relationships, Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a perfect little film that is so true-to-life, you would swear it was about you. And you know what? It probably is.