Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Both the new This Is Where I Leave You and last week’s The Skeleton Twins are about brothers and sisters. For the next five days, we single out more films that highlight that unique relationship.
Dysfunction binds a brother and sister in You Can Count On Me, Kenneth Lonergan’s quietly incisive portrait of grown siblings struggling—years after their parents died in a car accident—to find their way through the world. Sammy (Laura Linney) still lives in the small-town Catskills house in which she grew up, and works at a bank where she immediately spars with her new boss Brian (Matthew Broderick) over his authoritarian pettiness—before, that is, she foolishly decides to sleep with him. She’s delighted when her drifter brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo, in a breakthrough early performance) comes to visit, though the fact that he’s returned primarily so he can borrow more money is a disappointment that lingers over the proceedings, even after he agrees to stay on for a while. Together, they’re kindred messes, haphazardly stumbling about in search of direction—and, given that they never received any lasting parental guidance themselves, also awkwardly attempting to raise Sammy’s young son, Rudy (Rory Culkin), who concocts fantastical stories about the father he’s never met, and quickly takes to the irresponsibly blunt yet kind Terry.
Though Lonergan’s background is in the theater, his feature debut is anything but stagey, with the writer/director’s understated visual compositions amplifying both the tragedy and hilarity—occasionally at the same time—of his characters’ screwed-up circumstances. Like the soft-spoken priest that he plays in the film, Lonergan the filmmaker doesn’t judge his characters for their failings but, rather, provides them with enough space to reveal themselves as the flawed but fundamentally good people that they are. He’s aided by performances by Linney and Ruffalo that veer from good-intentioned compassion to thoughtless recklessness on a dime; the actors artfully reveal their characters’ heartfelt desire to understand themselves (and thus improve their, and Rudy’s, lot), and frustrating inability to control their less-than-ideal impulses. From a covert trip to a bar that ends with a touching bit of lying, to a combative confrontation with Rudy’s real father, to a final, open-ended note of reconciliation and hopefulness, it’s a wrenching portrait of personal shortcomings, and the way in which unwavering familial love transcends them.
Availability: You Can Count On Me is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store, or to rent or purchase through the major digital services.