Best of the Decade #6: You Can Count on Me
It is hard coming home sometimes. It can be even more painstaking if you are from a small town. Everyone knows and remembers you, and will typically ask questions like “where have you been?” or “what have you been up to?” Well, what do you say if you don’t want anyone to know where you have been or if you haven’t really done anything that you want to talk about? Things can become pretty uncomfortable in a hurry. This is just one of the issues addressed in 2000’s fantastic indie drama, You Can Count on Me.
Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo star as siblings Sammy and Terry Prescott, whose parents were killed by a car crash when they were kids. Terry has been in all sorts of trouble and has lived in places all over the country since leaving town after high school. Sammy, on the other hand, has never left her home town and is working at a bank and raising her eight year old son as a single parent. The boy is played by Rory Culkin (yes, the Home Alone kid’s younger brother) in one of the better child performances I’ve seen in recent years.
After hitting another speed bump in his life, Terry returns home to visit his sister for the first time in a long time. Noticing that he is not doing too well, Sammy asks him to stay for a little while. During his stay, Terry tries his best to help take care of his nephew and help out around the house. The key word in that last sentence is “tries.”
A difference in values results in a disagreement on, among other things, how the kid should be raised. Sammy shelters her son, treating him like he is three instead of eight. Terry always has good intentions but some of the things he and the boy do under his watch are seen as inappropriate by his mother. Such things include taking him to play pool at a bar and to meet his father whom he has never met. All the while, Sammy is dealing with the unwanted proposal of her on again, off again boyfriend and a pushy new boss (who she begins an affair with). The characters seem real and so do their issues.
Linney plays her usual middle-aged bitchy, yet confused character very well. Ruffalo turns in a subtly amazing performance as a man who just can’t seem to get it right. Though not as flashy as Oscar winners like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood or Sean Penn in Milk, his performance stands as one of the best of the decade. The discomfort of his character can be felt by the audience as his emotions run from anxious to discouraged to furious, and we can relate with him all along the way.