This is the haute cuisine of garments.
One of the year 2000's quietest, loveliest and best films, You Can Count On Me is the directorial debut of acclaimed playwright/screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York, Analyze This). Featuring stunning performances by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, Paramount delivers the goods on this nicely loaded DVD.
Facts of the Case
Tragedy struck Samantha and Terry Prescott as young children when their parents died in a tragic car accident. The years have passed and the two have grown into radically different people; Samantha (Laura Linney—The House of Mirth, The Truman Show) is now a single mother and a woman possessed with living a just life as well as being the perfect parent for her eight year old son Rudy (Rory Culkin). Samantha's younger brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo—54, Ride with the Devil) has gone an opposite path. Directionless and moving from town to town, east to west; Terry is now the prototypical lost child, fit to bouts of serious stupidity but also having a sweet and well meaning center. Two years have passed since last Sammy and Terry have seen each other, and finally Terry has come home. Thrilled because she thinks Terry is staying for a while, Sammy is quickly let down when she discovers Terry has returned only so he can borrow some cash so that his current girlfriend can afford an abortion.
In a situation that rapidly changes, Sammy's wish is granted as she finds herself having both her beloved brother home for an extended period of time as well as gaining an instant babysitter for Rudy. Times are difficult for Sammy these days, as she is contending with a new bank manager (Matthew Broderick—Election, The Freshman) who will not allow her time to pick up Rudy from school and a boyfriend (Jon Tenney—Guilty By Suspicion) proposing to her who she finds rather boring.
Being the on-the-edge kind of person he is, Terry cannot help but shake things up in Sammy's very ordered and well structured household. Through the wildness of his actions, the status quo in everyone's lives will be turned upside down as everything is put on the table and they all discover that, in the end; all we really ever have is family.
You Can Count On Me is one of those films that make me glad I do what I do. It is a gem of a movie that speaks with a voice that is consistent and truthful; exploring characters that are real and discovering emotions that almost anyone can relate to. In a sparkling directorial debut, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has fashioned a movie that simply does not exist in the high concept, big budget world of today's Hollywood. It is a film of small joys and profound pains. It has humor, warmth, sex and love. It moves along at a pace that is both comfortable and immediate; never losing sight of the people within it or the world they exist in. It is easily one of the past year's best achievements in film and hopefully with this DVD release it will become a movie more people can come to enjoy.
If the words are beautifully written, they would be just words if not for the performances of the movie's two main leads. Nothing I have seen in her previous film work prepared me for Laura Linney's work as Samantha Prescott. Her work is simply amazing. She moves with such grace and simplicity, yet carries such a complex emotional center that she makes it impossible to not watch her every move. Her character has so many self created rules in her life that seeing her venture out and do something so unlike her is to watch a flower come into full bloom. Linney carries with her such warmth and sensuality that she seems to radiate off the screen. It is a career defining performance and one I will not soon forget. I know she has bills to pay, but if this is the kind of work she is capable of, then I wish she would make her full time home in independent films. Of the performances last year by women, Linney's stands head and shoulders over the pack and she was robbed of the Oscar.
As her hot headed brother Terry, Mark Ruffalo explodes onto the screen with intensity and anger that is rarely seen these days. If Linney's Samantha is a calm body of water, then Ruffalo's Terry is the hurricane blowing through town and turning everything upside down. It is a character that in lesser hands would come off simply as one dimensional, but under Ruffalo's care, Terry is anything but simple. If his presence causes Samantha to live her life a little actively, then Terry's journey is one where he learns to calm down and start to believe in something other than day to day. Not to shower too much praise on the actor, but watching him at work I was reminded more than once of the anger and the pain that a young Marlon Brando brought to the screen. In fact, comparisons to the late James Dean are not out of line. It is remarkable work and the performances of the two leads mesh in perfect harmony.
Supporting roles are filled out in equal style. Standing up as the next generation of Culkin boys, Rory Culkin is dead on as Samantha's son, Rudy. Intelligent but never precocious in the usual cute movie fashion; Culkin gives Rudy a darkness and a depth rarely seen in child actors. He comes off very much as a loved but sheltered little boy, with his exposure to his uncle Terry giving him his first real taste of life. I could make all kind of Culkin kid jokes, but of the group, young Rory seems to have the most talent and I hope he fares as well in future projects.
As Sammy's would-be boyfriend and wannabe husband, Jon Tenney balances his character of Bob Stegerson with just the right touch of solid, steady good guy yet still possessing enough blandness to make Samantha looking around for something else perfectly understandable. In what is basically a thankless role, Tenney makes his mark on the film.
Matthew Broderick turns up as Samantha's new boss Brian Everett; while the part is little more than extended cameo, it carries with it an important role in the film. It offers Sammy a chance at something different while also giving her the opportunity to make a choice she might not have made before her brother blew into town. Within the context of the film, their affair makes perfect sense and like everything else in You Can Count On Me, it is handled naturally, with little of the usual Hollywood buildup or blow outs. As stated, Broderick's role does not have significant screen time, but he makes the most of the time he does have and makes the role very much his own.
For its DVD release, Paramount has given You Can Count On Me an anamorphic transfer that maintains the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is a solid transfer that features rich, vibrant colors and life like flesh tones while also offering up solid blacks that carry strong detail. Edge enhancement and digital shimmer are held to a bare minimum with the only real problem I could find was with the actual source material. Flaws such as nicks and scratches betray the movie as being the low budget affair that it was. I suppose my main reaction was one of surprise considering the youth of the movie and the studio that was releasing the disc. While the distortions are apparent, it needs to be stated that they are hardly a major distraction and should not stand as a reason for avoiding this disc.
There are two soundtrack options included: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Simply working off of habit, I chose the 5.1, and for all the usage of the surround channels the mix might as well have been mono. You Can Count On Me is not exactly a sound effects bonanza, with the star of the show being Kenneth Lonergan's marvelous dialogue, and the audio track does an excellent job of showing it off. There are no background distortions to be heard, while everything is clear and well constructed. The mix is a simple one and it would appear that it represents the intent of the filmmaker, thus my score off to the side reflects this.
I'm at the point that whenever a Paramount release includes more than the movie's trailer, I'm ready to drop my jaw in surprise. Well, consider me catching flies when I saw that the disc included a scene specific commentary track from Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan as well as a production featurette. The featurette includes interview footage with the movies three main leads, Matthew Broderick and Lonergan. It runs about 11 minutes and offers a nice overview of the film and the care that went into its production. The featurette is not as in depth as I would have cared for, but it is somewhat above the usual electronic press kit level most discs seem to put forward these days.
For the extras, the star of the show is obviously the commentary track and I found Lonergan to be an engaging, if low key speaker. The discussion has few sizable gaps and offers a great look into Lonergan's creative process. He speaks glowingly of his cast and he talks at great length about the creative limitations of current mainstream filmmaking and the alternatives offered by independent films. It's a solid track, but one that probably would have benefited from someone else joining him at the microphone.
The goodies are closed out by the movie's theatrical trailer. It's not the most feature laden disc in the world, but my expectations given that it was a Paramount release were pretty low, thus I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, if you are the kind of moviegoer whose viewing habits are defined by popcorn flicks like Deep Blue Sea or Armageddon, then chances are You Can Count On Me is not going to carry a whole lot of appeal for you. What it is, is a beautifully written film that is deliberate in its approach and in its pace. Go to it with an open mind and I can't imagine anyone not coming away enchanted by its charms as well as haunted by its memory.
As a disc I have few complaints. I'm thrilled Paramount granted us a commentary track plus a short but informative featurette. The only thing I might have asked for was for some deleted scenes or to have either Laura Linney or Mark Ruffalo contribute their own alternate audio option. All in all, this is a disc I will watch again and one I am glad to own.
You Can Count On Me is one of those rare films that is a true feel-good movie that never panders to or sells its audience short. It is easily one of the best films of 2000 and it deserves a place on the shelf of anyone serious about movies or the future of American cinema. It features marvelous performances from its entire cast, a screenplay that is haunting in the way it lingers in the memory and direction that is the model of economy and discretion. For this judge, You Can Count On Me is a must own. I sat down and watched this movie twice in a row, and then once more for the commentary track. Each time I found something new to embrace and enjoy, while still being moved by the same things that touched me the first time out. Watch this with someone you care about and share it with as many people as you can. You Can Count On Me is a film that will be remembered and one people will thank you for showing them.
Innocent of all charges. This judge can't remember a better example of independent filmmaking to come down the pike in quite some time. Everyone connected with You Can Count On Me is thanked for a beautiful film experience with the hope that these people will work together on something else very soon.
Good day and this courtroom is dismissed.
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