high weir

November 11, 2006

On “You Can Count on Me”

Filed under: Movies — jstreed1476 @ 6:57 am

High on my list of favorite films is You Can Count on Me (2000). I really enjoy the rare chance discovery that someone else likes it a lot, too.

It’s about a pair of siblings reunited after being out of touch for an extended time. Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) were orphaned as young children. Sammy now lives in their childhood home with son Rudy (Rory Culkin), who’s eight; Terry claims to prefer drifting in and out of jobs and lives, but he admits that he wants to come home for a little while.

Terry is bright and charming and spontaneous–everything a kid wants in an uncle. At first, anyway. He’s also a catastrophe waiting to happen. His bad judgment wrecks goodwill and hopefulness wherever he goes. But Sammy really wants him to find a more meaningful connection to . . . something. To her, and Rudy, and the world in general.

In a desperate moment, she consults Father Ron (played by the director, Kenneth Lonergan), the priest at her church. She wants to know what to do when “someone can’t quite get ahold of themselves.” Father Ron calls on them at home. As Rudy shoots baskets outside, the three of them make an awkward triangle in the living room.

Here’s a transcript of their conversation. I record it here so I can find it again, and because it’s good enough to share.

Terry: “Well, I’m not really sure why you’re here, Ron. Umm . . . I know I haven’t exactly been the model citizen since I got here, but considering how things have been going for me lately, I thought I was doing fairly well.

Directs attention to Sammy

“And I also find it kind of discouraging that you seem to think that I’m in need of some sort of spiritual guidance or what have you, so much so that you’re willing to disregard the fact that I don’t believe in any of this stuff at all.”

Sammy: “Well, I didn’t mean to discourage you.”

Terry: “Yeah, I find it kind of insulting.”

Father Ron: “Can I . . .can I say something here?

Sammy asked me to come talk to you because it’s her opinion that you’re not going to find what you’re looking for the way you’re looking for it.”

Terry: “And how would she know?”

Father Ron: “But I’m really not here to try to get you to do anything or to try to get you to believe in anything.

“And I’ll tell you the same thing that I told her, which is that as far as I’m concerned, the only way she can help you is by her example, by trying to be a model for you in the way she lives her life.

“And that doesn’t mean she’s supposed to be a saint, either, if that’s what you’re smiling about.”

Terry: “Oh, I didn’t realize I was smiling.”

Terry and Father Ron stare at their shoes for a few seconds.

Father Ron: “You know, Terry, a lot of people come to see me with all kinds of problems. Drugs, alcohol, marital problems, sexual problems–”

Terry: “Great job you have, man.”

Father Ron: “Well, I like it . . .

“I really feel like what I do is very connected with the real center of people’s lives. I’m not saying I’m always Mr Effective, but I don’t feel like my life is off to the side of what’s important. I don’t feel like my happiness and comfort are based on closing my eyes to trouble within myself or trouble in other people. I don’t feel like a negligible little scrap floating around in some kind of empty void, with no sense of connectedness to anything around me except by virtue of whatever little philosophies I can scrape together on my own.”

Terry: “Well . . . ?”

Father Ron: “Can I ask you, Terry, do you think your life is important?”

There’s a great deal to love about this movie–it’s funny and sad, it has surprises that aren’t just cheap tricks, the soundtrack is beautiful, and so on. But its best quality is its characters’ honesty with each other. They convince us that they say what they really want and need to say. And sometimes that means silence, too. There are aspects of the movie I could do without, but there are no really wasted scenes; it all adds up in the end.

Sometimes when people know each other so well that some things can go without saying, they still need to say them.


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