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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/9/01

You Can Count on Me
2000 (2001) - Paramount Classics (Paramount)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

You Can Count on Me

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-

Specs and Features

110 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 55:23, at the start of chapter 11), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, theatrical trailer, cast and crew interviews, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Like many good films, You Can Count on Me has a relatively simple premise - a brother and a sister, who have been in and out of touch over the past couple of years, reunite to catch up with each other's lives. Since their parents' death in their pre-teen years, the two have taken separate paths in life. Sammy (Laura Linney in a quiet, moving performance) has stayed in their small, upstate New York hometown, works at a bank and is raising her son Rudy (Rory Culkin) as a single mother. She doesn't fully acknowledge her loneliness, and tends to take to men for whom she feels a sense of pity. Terry (Mark Ruffalo) drifts from town to town across the country working various jobs and is trapped in a sort of perpetual adolescence. He's not completely responsible with his life decisions, but he isn't necessarily irresponsible either. He just doesn't fully realize the consequences of his actions.

When Mark takes a bus into town for what is supposed to be a short visit home, the two develop relationships in the most unlikely of places. Sammy initially butts heads with her new boss, Brian (Matthew Broderick), the micro-manager from Hell. Brian is a married man with an expecting wife, and within weeks of knowing him, Sammy finds excitement in the possibility of having an affair with him. She, in turn, starts to lose touch with what's going on in her own home. So Terry begins to act as a stand-in father for Rudy, who knows so little about his real father that he makes up fanciful stories to ease the pain. Most grown men would realize that taking a nine-year-old boy to a bar to hustle a game of pool is not the brightest of ideas. Terry, however, sees it as an opportunity for Rudy to have some fun outside of his sheltered upbringing, and jumps at the chance to do so. Eventually, tension builds between Sammy and Terry, as they realize that their family bond means accepting both the good and the bad in each other.

You Can Count on Me was my favorite film of last year. It isn't plagued by the typical, tidied-up ending that cheats the audience out of real emotion by making everything all better just before the credits role. It knows that people don't fall into the movie category of "I'll never be the same after this." People don't easily change their ways - events in our lives happen and we evolve around these events. In a film industry that likes to clutter movies that center on superfluous, unrealistic family problems, You Can Count on Me takes a levelheaded, natural approach to its subject matter and doesn't dress it up with melodramatic excess. Director Kenneth Lonergan (who also has a small part as the town priest) simply and effectively creates a moving film from his own beautiful script. With two strong performances by the lead actors, and with Broderick and Culkin both turning in effective supporting roles, You Can Count on Me proves itself to be a solid, entertaining film from beginning to end. It shows family relationships for what they are - undeniably touching, sometimes funny, often frustrating and always surprising.

Paramount Classics (Paramount's relatively new independent division) has released You Can Count on Me on DVD in anamorphic widescreen, in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For all intents and purposes, this is a very good-looking transfer. Flesh tones are rendered accurately and present a very lifelike appearance. Black level is also accurate and detailed, and there's no color bleed to speak of. Artifacting (NTSC or otherwise) is minimal and I didn't see any signs of edge enhancement. My only major complaint is that there seems to be more print damage than should be expected of a newer film. This is especially noticeable in the opening moments of the film. Other than that, this film looks just as good at home as it did in the theatres.

On the audio side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is a low-key mix, that emphasizes dialogue above anything else. It's crisp and clear and devoid of any distractions. Rear channels exhibit some separation effects, but only on occasion. Otherwise, their use is maintained solely for the music track. The front end of the sound field sounds a bit fuller than do the surround channels, but this is to be expected of a film that is more dialogue than anything else. This mix isn't going to knock your socks off , but it's effective for a film of this nature and is full-bodied and strong when it needs to be.

For extras, we're given only a small handful of goodies to pick through. The cast and crew interview segment is a 12-minute piece culled primarily from press junkets. Some of it looks like EPK sort of material, but it's all informative. The four primary actors (Linney, Ruffalo, Broderick and Culkin) all discuss their characters with admiration and a sense of pride. They all seem to be very fond of this film. Kenneth Lonergan also takes some time to talk about the film and its origins as a one-act play. It's definitely worth a look and is somewhat more in depth than the average featurette. His audio commentary track is also enlightening, and it provides more insight on the genesis of the film and some of his inspirations for making this movie (including the still DVD-less Coal Miner's Daughter). There are occasional lapses of silence, but when he addresses the film, it's with important information regarding character development and thematic choices in filmmaking. Finally, you get the film's theatrical trailer, which for some inexplicable reason is shown full-frame.

You Can Count on Me was a critical darling and a hit at Sundance 2000, where it shared the Grand Prize with Girlfight. I've talked the film up enough, so the rest is up to you. Its presentation on DVD is quite attractive, and though the features are standard and minimal, they're informative and compliment the film nicely. The disc and the film are definitely worth a look.

Dan Kelly
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