You Can Count On Me is a small film, but an accomplished debut for writer-director Kenneth Lonergan.Laura Linney is Sammy Prescott, a divorced single mother to eight year old Rudy (Rory Culkin) in Scottsville, small-town USA. Sammy has an undemanding job at the local bank, and a routine occasional boyfriend (Jon Tenney). Her ordered world is disrupted by two near-simultaneous arrivals: a new bank manager (Brian, played by Matthew Broderick) and the return home of her younger brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) - a drifter who moves on when trouble catches up with him.
It's refreshing to see a film about adult siblings, even if Lonergan's nicely detailed script ultimately treads a familiar path. The way it's written, these characters have few options; their lives feel pre-ordained. Sammy's affair with the married Brian is only going to end up one way, and it's difficult to believe that Terry, no matter how successful a father figure for Rudy, will ever happily settle in Scottsville.
Nevertheless, the principals make the film enjoyable. Linney is a charming actress. Equally good as a naïve innocent (Tales of the City) or calculating bitch (The House of Mirth), she gives Sammy a fully-rounded characterisation, and doesn't plead for a sentimental response. Ruffalo's performance initially seems very mannered - he conspicuously mumbles through his first scene with Sammy. He relaxes as the film progresses (or maybe I got used to him). Ruffalo has the rough charisma of Marlon Brando in his early film roles and, if audiences take to him (he features in John Woo's World War II extravaganza Windtalkers later in the year), he could become a star. The rest of the actors seem right for their roles, without being exceptional.Lonergan takes a fairly objective view of his characters, when he could easily have told his story from one character's perspective (I was relieved we were spared the cliche of Rudy reminiscing about this as the formative time of his life). But his objectivity also distanced me from the characters, and I cared less about their predicament than I expected.