December 18, 2000 [You Can Count on Me]

Lately, like some dope who's never watched a movie in his life, I’ve been captivated by actual plots--which calls into question my allegiance to the Mystic Order of the Seeing Eye, whose members worship light and shadow, images that draw me into a Rorschach dream-logic that changes everything. The movie, then, becomes the clean slate on which I write--or scrawl, or doodle; I'm not always as clever as I think--until the film becomes a malleable substance, either gold or Silly Putty--depending not exactly on the movie itself but the eye I turn on it.

Again, though, I've been taken in lately by moving parts, stories with structure and substructure, seductive mechanisms--like You Can Count on Me, a movie smart enough--despite a few sags and creaks--to depend almost entirely on the characters to do their old thing: They act to define themselves and interact to define their relationships. Simple stuff, but Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Rory Culkin, and Mathew Broderick all plug away to make us see their characters clearly so that we can follow them with sympathy, affection--and crossed fingers.

The prizes go all around here: Linney's Sammy Prescott is feeling the pressure of being The Rock, the one who stayed in the small-town house, despite her parents' death when she and her brother were small and her separation from her son's father. Sammy is keeping-it-together, and it is painful to watch--until her ne'er-do-well brother Terry comes home, at first just for money, but then for more: Ruffalo gives Terry such a lonely heart--and so much of it--that the movie threatens to become Uncle Buck-ish as Terry embarks on an older-brotherly relationship with Sammy's little boy--played by a Culkin, no less. But Ruffalo and Culkin and the script pull back from the sloppy stuff, and everyone, even Sammy’s boss--Matthew Broderick's as an insecure martinet--draws us into the story with neither sledgehammers nor violins but with conversation, everyday conflict, and resolution--maybe not the one I desired, but the one that made sense.

(More or less. Pete watched it with me--and he saw the key signs that things were going south for these characters, people he had grown attached to--so he bailed out with about twenty minutes to go. He does this every now and then, in effect re-writing a movie by refusing to endure the finale’s breaking the promises of the first two acts.  Now that’s editing.)


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