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Pick of the Week: You Can Count on Me

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Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

You Can Count on Me is a compelling, character-driven drama that begins with a brief prologue: In 1982 a husband and wife are killed in an automobile accident. The couple’s two young children -- a girl and a boy -- are left to grow up without parents. Now flash forward 18 years, and the main story gets underway. The remainder of the film shows what happens when the orphaned siblings, whose adult lives have taken very different paths, are reunited for two or three weeks.

We first meet Sammy (Laura Linney), a single mom who lives in the small upstate New York town of Scottsville. Sammy has an eight-year-old son Rudy (Rory Culkin) who was presumably born out of wedlock. But the boy’s father abandoned Sammy and Rudy years ago, and Rudy doesn’t remember his dad at all.

Sammy is the local bank’s lending officer, and she attends church regularly. She is attractive and likable, and we get the impression that half the men in town would be in love with her if she would let them. Sammy is not currently in a committed relationship, and we soon see her call up a man named Bob she had been dating a few months earlier. They have dinner and wine, and later as Sammy leaves Bob’s bed, she tells him politely, "Thanks for a lovely evening."

Sammy’s younger brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) lives in a shabby studio apartment in a seedy part of Worcester, Massachusetts. The coffee table in his apartment is an old stereo speaker turned on its side. Terry is the kind of guy who aimlessly drifts around from Alaska to Florida, never settling in any one place, doing odd jobs, and getting in bar fights. A distraught young woman is living with Terry, but it’s obvious that their relationship is a troubled one. Terry desperately needs money, and he decides that he’ll have to visit his sister for the first time in two years and ask her for some.

Terry takes a bus to Scottsville, where a delighted Sammy welcomes him. Treating Terry’s arrival as a special occasion, Sammy has dressed as she would to deal with customers at the bank, and she takes him to a restaurant for lunch, even though he is dressed like a bum. He reveals to her he only recently got out of jail, and she tries to talk to him about his restlessness by asking, "How would you ever know if you found the right thing?" But his response makes the distance between them apparent, "I’m not really lookin’ for anything, man. I’m just, like, tryin’ to get on with it."

When Terry calls back to Worcester, he discovers the woman he was living with has attempted suicide, and he decides to stay on in Scottsville with Sammy for a while. Terry begins to bond with Sammy’s son Rudy, showing him things like how to hammer a nail and taking him to a tavern to play pool. One evening Terry tells Rudy why he hates Scottsville, "It’s a dull, narrow town full of dull, narrow people who don’t know anything except what things are like right around here."

At about the time that Terry comes to Scottsville, an ambitious new branch manager named Brian (Matthew Broderick) is assigned to the bank where Sammy has worked for the past seven years. He immediately makes life miserable for the bank employees with all sorts of petty rules, such as forbidding the use of unusual colors like purple on computer screens. When Brian edicts that every employee must turn in a time sheet at the end of each day, Sammy objects, "It just seems like a lot of extra paperwork." But Brian’s response is, "I like paperwork."

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