The small town of Scottsville in upstate New York where Samantha Prescott (Laura Linney) grew up and still lives has the kind of scenic charm and implied stability that she craves for her 8-year-old son, Rudy (Rory Culkin). But that only represents stifling conformity to her errant brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo). These adult siblings have had a strong bond but a tempestuous relationship since their parents died in a car crash nearly 20 years earlier, and when Terry comes to town, Sammy treats it like royalty’s come calling.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan chronicles one such visit between the wandering Terry and the seemingly stable Sammy in You Can Count On Me, a low-key and surprising character study which shows just how much is happening beneath the surface of even the most mundane lives.
The excellent Mark Ruffalo (memorable in the short-lived television series “The Beat”) plays Terry as a perpetual screw-up who’s always prepared to be judged and come up wanting. Yet when Terry’s truly in his element — taking the shy Rudy to a pool hall and otherwise serving as the father figure he lost — Ruffalo exudes a rakish charm and sly intelligence, enough to engender hope that he might eventually find a place to call home.
Lonergan, who has a perfunctory visual style but a marvelous touch with actors, also provides a wonderful showcase for Linney. When asked by her minister why she’s gotten involved with needy, confused men — sweet, dull boyfriend Bob (Jon Tenney) and her smug, manipulative, married boss Brian (Matthew Broderick) — Sammy replies: “Because I feel sorry for them.” This maternal instinct — to shelter and nurture — leads her to be overprotective of Rudy (curious about his absent father), just as it makes Terry the source of constant worries.
You Can Count On Me is a film of small revelations, the kind which can have a profound effect or simply be abandoned like well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions. Lonergan has created characters so full of the messy contradictions of real people that it feels like these lives will simply carry on long after the movie credits have rolled.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
E-mail Serena Donadoni at email@example.com.