YOU CAN COUNT ON ME A
USA (111 mi) 2000 d: Kenneth Lonergan
I’m not the kind of guy that everyone says I am. —Terry Prescott (Mark Ruffalo)
A small, independent gem of a film showing a glimpse of life and family strife in a rural upstate New York community, where trees and rolling hills are prevalent, and the idyllic Main Street is the picture of any one-street small American town, which is the setting of a brother and sister reunion. Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney are Terry and Sammy Prescott, young adults now after being orphaned at an early age when their parents died in a senseless car accident. Sammy has an 8-year old son Rudy (Rory Culkin), whose absent father stays out of the picture, leaving unanswered questions and a certain curiosity from the child. Sammy is the kind of responsible, overcontrolling perfectionist that never has a hair out of place while Terry has always been a more aimless drifter that never worries about how things are supposed to be, as he’d never do things that way anyway. Sammy still lives in their parent’s house, has a respectable job at the bank, and feels connected to the small town community through church and her son’s school affairs, while Terry never allows himself to feel tied down, comes and goes whenever he pleases, and worries his sister sick about being the kind of guy that continually screws up his life. But Terry is not a bad guy, just a continual fuck-up, still filled with the rebellious, teenage angst from the trouble he likely got into as a child, where he just doesn’t fit in anywhere and doesn’t stick around long enough to find out why. People tend to like Terry for his friendly affability and offbeat sense of humor, while Sammy has a way of always making other people feel small by continually proving that she is better than they are. While she’s smart and reliable, she can behave inappropriately, as she takes advantage of others by extending the range of acceptable behavior because she’s usually so good at what she does. In this way, really, she can be smug and morally superior, answerable to no one, feeling above it all, as if her life matters more than anyone else’s, though she’s loath to admit it.
Feeling much like a road movie, where life is an isolated journey, oftentimes sad and lonely, this is a toned down, understated search for truth, where there aren’t any real answers, just difficult questions making our lives feel smaller and our friends and family more disconnected, where here the fragmented pieces of people’s lives are connected by a truly sublime unaccompanied Bach cello piece, the Prelude to the Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 Rostropovich plays the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 ... YouTube (1:59) that adds a sacred element to our ordinary lives. Initially written as a one act play, featuring a conversation between a brother and sister in a restaurant, where the intensity of their outbursts draws the staring attention of others, remaining oblivious to the rules of public decorum, as they’re simply lost in the drama that is their lives. Both characters couldn’t be more different, but are highly appealing and become fully developed through the clarity of the dialog which is filled with a rich description of their inner complexities, not always what they appear, more often revealing a wounded reaction to the troubling world outside that has never given either one of them a break. It’s a soul searching, heartbreaking drama filled with wrenching truths about honesty and feeling connected to someone. The truth often hurts, as people’s lives aren’t something you can control, as they easily veer off track in unimaginable ways that aren’t always apparent, becoming evident at the most inopportune times and often in the most embarrassing of ways. The film is always changing moods and shifting directions, very much in the moody and irrepressible manner of Terry, whose inner fury simply will not be contained, yet is framed in the luxuriant color of reds and greens, immersed in the woods which are always nearby, told with an exactitude of detail and formal precision that feels meticulously accurate. The relaxed authenticity of character just feels so naturalistic and comfortable most of the time, where there isn’t an ounce of pretension, gently and intelligently told as if this were our own lives unfolding onscreen.
Linney and Ruffalo give arguably the best performances of their careers, largely because they each so confoundingly do the unexpected, which is what likely endures us to the characters, Ruffalo as the lovable loser who continually wanders astray and Linney as the maternal anchor of both her boys, who surprises us by needing to break the chains of confinement. Lonergan himself plays an unflappable small-town minister who remains grounded and personally connected to the lives in this community through the troubles they experience, where he’s constantly confronted by the dark side of human woe, offering human support and encouragement without always resorting to Biblical scripture as lofty ivory tower sentiment, as he understands the fragility of the human soul and how easily it breaks down. His job is to help repair the broken parts, which often takes a lifetime. Caught between the love of her brother and the need to protect her son, Sammy can be a force to reckon with, driving everyone around her batty, but what works in this film is how the lines of communication remain open, damaged and flawed as that may be, it’s also equally impressive how she willfully remains a connected force in people’s lives, exerting herself in a place of need, someone to look after broken parts and wandering souls, offering that needed touch with reality from time to time. Ruffalo beautifully expresses that kind of character that has no real affinity for anyplace, that’s hard to pin down, that refuses to be defined, that will spend the rest of his life searching for something just outside his reach, never settling for the middle ground. He’s a scarred and wounded character that is achingly real, the kind of guy who disappears and gets lost for large periods of time only to resurface later a bit older, wearier, but still open and vulnerable, and still the same guy you love and always hope he will be. This is as refreshing a portrait of humanity as you’re going to find, driven by the strong performances, always touching and humorous, filled with near reverential small moments that eloquently speak to us long after the movie has ended.