You can count on this movie

by Robert J. Hawkins | Jun 27, 2001
You can count on this movie The night Samantha and Terry Prescott lost their parents in a horrible car crash, the emotional tether that held them to this earth was severed. Their lives were in free fall ever since.

Years passed. Terry continued to drift, floating through life and America on a soft cloud of pot. Sammy stayed put in little Scottsville, N.Y., and worked her way up from high school wild child to loan officer at the local branch of Outpost Banker`s Trust. She found an anchor of sort in her son, Rudy (now 8), and in an undeviating daily routine executed in unchanging surroundings.

Once in a while, a great while, Terry`s wanderings (or dire financial circumstances) bring him home. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan`s sweetly poignant "You Can Count On Me" (Paramount, R, VHS/DVD) is about one of those painful reunions.

The movie earned Oscar nominations for Lonergan (original screenplay) and its star, the ever-engaging Laura Linney (best actress).

Terry (Mark Ruffalo) blows in on the bus from Worcester, Mass. He`s broke, he`s stoned, he`s dirty, he`s thin, he`s inarticulate, he`s self-absorbed, he`s ungrateful, he`s left a girl behind in trouble. And he`s her brother.

Sammy (Linney) couldn`t be happier to see him - for a few minutes anyway. Sammy the single mom has a thing for strays, men who are emotional basket cases. Show her a man with a tenuous grasp on his own emotional wiring and she melts. Can`t put her reassuring arms around the guy quick enough. Yeah, of course she loves country music. She is a country song.

Terry just happens to be the puddle of emotional meltdown who is also her closest living relative. There is also Bob (Jon Tenney) - a man of fewer words and no emotions he can call his own. Bob is quick to anticipate exactly what it is he thinks Sammy needs to hear. Even when he proposes, the backpedaling begins the moment she hesitates. There`s also her new branch manager, Brian (Matthew Broderick), who goes from bureaucratic pariah to adulterous bedmate the moment Sammy sees his emotionally chilly wife rebuff him.

Sammy and Terry both carry around huge unresolved pools of pain. Terry lashes back at the world for it. Sammy denies it exists. They both end up in compulsive situations. Sammy is a sucker for weak men. Terry gets into fights, when he`s not blaming the world for all his misfortunes. Nothing is ever Terry`s fault. He`s a certified, permanently installed victim.

But the truth is, neither Sammy nor Terry is a bad person. They`re just a couple of kids who were dealt a rotten hand early on and they`ve been stuck with it ever since. Terry is able to rise up out of his morose self-pity long enough to be a decent male role model for his nephew, Rudy. He`ll teach him how to bang a hammer, shoot pool, go fishing. But the same Terry is capable of turning on the boy in anger or leaving him stranded at a bus stop in the pouring rain.

The same Sammy that can seduce her married boss is also a loving, if smothering, mother to her own son. She`s a devout Catholic with a first-hand familiarity with quite a few of the Ten Commandments.

Lonergan isn`t interested in handing his audience simple, one-dimensional characters. These people have their good days and their bad days, their good moments and their bad - often following closely together. They struggle to be decent people; they know the right thing to do. They just don`t always succeed. And often, like the stoner Terry, they choose not to succeed. But you can`t help but sit out here in the audience and root for them.

Lonergan`s compassionate perspective makes you care deeply for Terry and Sammy. You yearn for Terry to find purpose in his life. You ache for Sammy and the loneliness that wraps over her with the darkness of night. You know they both deserve better. And when there is a small victory - like Sammy gaining the upper hand on her inept boss or Terry experiencing a selfless moment of lucidity - you want to jump up and cheer. For better and worse, they are us.

ALSO THIS WEEK:

"Unbreakable" (Touchstone, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - The writer/director and star team of "The Sixth Sense" - M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis - team up again for another supernatural work of intrigue.

Willis is David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train wreck, "miraculously unharmed" (think "Fearless"). He is contacted by ultra-fragile comic book dealer Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who believes David is his spiritual/physical counterpart - "on the same curve, just at opposite ends."

Elijah reads comics as if they were oracles of the future. In David he sees a supernatural hero sent here to fight the forces of darkness and evil. But just who is the arch-villain in this scenario? An intriguing story is dragged down by a plodding plot and an all-too-quickly played out denouement.

"The Claim" (MGM, R, VHS/DVD) - Period piece set in 1869 - and inspired by Thomas Hardy`s novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge" - a Californian enriched through his gold mine tries to convince a railroad to connect its new line through his town. His scheme is going well enough until a mother and daughter arrive with a shocking secret, the ramifications of which could spell ruin for the town and his empire.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, this drama stars Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Peter Mullen and Sarah Polley.

"Deep Core" (Paramount, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - Deep-well oil drillers set off an explosion off-shore which launches a deadly tsunami while, a thousand miles away, a sinkhole swallows an entire town. A volcano erupts in the Philippines and another in Hawaii. It`s up to a geologist (Craig Sheffer) and a team of specialists to make sense of these cataclysmic events before the planet is imperiled.

This action-thriller also stars James Russo and Terry Farrell.

"Dude, Where`s My Car?" (Fox, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - Think of this flyweight comedy as the theatrical equivalent of lightweight summer beach reading. Absolutely nothing of any substance.

You can safely shut off the brain and absorb the moving pictures without the prospect of a conflicting thought rising in your head. Call it stupid fun for those times when you need stupid movies.

Ashton Kutcher (TV`s "That `70s Show") and Seann William Scott ("Road Trip" and "American Pie") awake to find their car missing and with it nearly all recollection of the bodacious party they enjoyed the night before. Among other mysteries they must solve is how they ended up with a lifetime supply of pudding snack packs.

Retracing their steps sends them off on other-worldly adventures and in the path of their very-annoyed twin girlfriends.

"National Geographic Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor" (Touchstone, documentary, VHS under $20) - Latest in a long series of documentaries timed to exploit the theatrical epic "Pearl Harbor." This one brings in the script, theatrical film and characters from the movie with historical footage.

"Daniel Takes a Train" (Facets, VHS, subtitled) - Hungarian director Pal Sandor created this thriller, rich in black humor, in 1983.

Daniel is in love with Mariann, but the onset of war sends them fleeing in opposite directions and out of the country.

In Hungarian with English subtitles.

Facets specializes in quality foreign films and independent U.S. films. They can be reached at (800) 331-6197.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

July 10: Brendan Fraser is the libidinous illustrator with a monkey on his case in "Monkeybone - a movie perhaps too weird for even big kids.

July 10: Kevin Costner helps launch the new DVD video label Infinifilms, with the debut of his "Thirteen Days."

Aug. 28: Julia Stiles is "Wicked" in this psychological thriller.

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins

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