Nominated for Academy Awards in 2000 for Best Actress and Best Screenplay, "You Can Count on Me" is a story about a sister "Sammy" (Laura Linney) and brother "Terry" (Mark Ruffalo) who are seeking to live with the emotional scars they carry as a result of childhood traumas. I use the plural "traumas" here because subtle hints throughout the film (even in the very first scene) make it clear that issues other than the sudden death of their parents when they were kids contributed to their woundedness later in life.
The film is a rich and complex study of the costs of trauma and abuse, and how the scars they cause stay with us throughout our lives, impacting how we view ourselves and how we view, treat and interact-with friends (and acquaintances).
The center of the film is on the "Big Sister" (Sammy) in the story, and shows us that, despite trying very hard to give the appearance of being a successful, disciplined, put-together person, is an emotional mess: engaging in self destructive behaviors, displacing her own internal pain and anger onto others, and refusing to admit she has problems. Laura Linney's performance in this role earned her an Oscar nomination, and rightfully so: she does an excellent job of portraying her character realistically and subtley, avoiding the trap of becoming trite or preachy in her characterization of "Sammy".
Her brother (Terry) is equally a mess, but in some ways is healthier: admitting he's a mess, and showing he's capable of emotional growth and healing by the time the film ends. A particularly good scene is his interaction with his sister's inept Pastor (portrayed by the film's writer and director, Kenneth Lonergan). It becomes clear during the course of this scene that Terry is a much more intelligent, self-aware and thoughtful person than he normally portrays himself to be. Mark Ruffalo, in this role, strikes a great balance between the troubled, devil-may-care attitude towards life and others that you expect; yet he is also sensitive and caring. You see his character evolving over the course of the film as he learns that the lives of those around him matter, too.
This film seeks to portray complex and subtle emotions and interactions between its characters. Kenneth Lonergan appears to be very aware of the sources and costs of emotional trauma, and yet was able to portray the subject, in this his first major film, with sensitivity and light humor. In the end, his work leaves us with multiple messages. The one I will remember is his message of hope: that no matter how painful or traumatic one's past is, you can overcome it.
Well worth watching for those who like emotionally complex characters in interesting dramas: definitely a five star film!