You Can Count On Me

youcancountonmeYou’re all completely nuts. That’s all there is to it. Not one of you is fit to operate heavy machinery. Or even a kitten. No kittens for any of you, ’cause you all liked You Can Count On Me. And what’s worse, you MADE me watch it. Thank you very much for wasting my evening, you can go now.

You Can Count On Me was a mainstay on best-of lists in 2000, was Oscar-nominated for a Best Screenplay and a bunch of other awards, and it received four stars from a goat-load of reviewers. I can’t understand any of it. Here, let’s look at the movie, and I’ll show you my multi-planar disgust.

The story: Sammy (Laura Linney), divorced with one kid, is kind of a screw-up who tries not to be and has a brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), who is an absolutely irredeemable screw-up and who comes to live with her. Two hours of them being screw-ups occurs, nothing changes or is learned, and then Terry leaves.

There you go. Oh, and Sammy has an unappealing boyfriend called Bob and she has an affair with her S.O.B. boss played by Matthew Broderick (whose middle-agedness I’m never going to get used to). Terry is a bitter and vicious ass who despises the small town he goes back to, mostly because he was a failure there just like he’s a failure everywhere he goes. He tries to inculcate this bitterness in Sammy’s son, who is played by a freakin’ Culkin.

That’s the film in a nutshell. Jerks go on being jerks and confront each other about their being jerks while they keep on being jerks. And it has been lauded up the hilt. You Can Count On Me doesn’t fall back on Hollywood formula, it’s true. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks like story or interest or identification with the characters to keep you into the film. No, not only is this movie bravely willing to keep you from giving a damn about anyone within, it’s got the foresight and intellect to not reward you for having watched it. Nobody changes, though the movie ends like it’s pretending they have.

You Can Count On Me is, essentially, a critic’s dream. Not only is it a film totally devoid of imagination, but it has no entertainment value, either, two qualities loathed by the average critic. If drama can be defined, like Hitchcock does in his interviews with Truffaut, as “life with the boring parts cut out,” then You Can Count On Me is drama with all the interesting parts cut out. What you’re left with is a big old slice of nothing that lies there in your consciousness, breathing just enough for you to know it wants to pretend it’s alive.

The apoplexies of adoration emitted for this movie are confusing. Looking through a number of reviews, a common theme seems to be that the movie is ‘real.’ But in what manner is reality qualitative? There are plenty of things in life that are real that are neither interesting nor illuminating (e.g. You Can Count On Me). Mere reality isn’t a strong enough reason for recommendation. Likeable characters can be, but if you like the populace of this film I have strong reservations about your judgment. They do seem like real people, sure, but I know plenty of real people who are jerks, and with whom I would not like to spend the two hours that You Can Count On Me requires.

An essential problem is that it aspires toward psychological depth, but does so only by employing gimmicks. In the first two minutes, the parents of the brother and sister are killed in a car accident. Is this the cause of all their modern pain? I guess so, but the evidence is scanty. The entire film is like this – it walks on eggshells to avoid being heavy-handed, and in so doing divests itself from any coherent theme.

After watching this movie, I started thinking (as I usually do after watching a frustrating film, since I am a geek) about Hitchcock. His Vertigo
is a movie that has a tenuous grip on reality. It posits an artificial scenario, and the people within are, in small ways, larger than life – it has a healthy dose of melodrama. But damned if that movie ain’t filled to the brim with the one thing You Can Count On Me strenuously avoids: truth. Vertigo knows something about obsession and objectification, and the way a small madness can capture the most down-to-earth man. If all movies are artifice at some level, then isn’t a truth arrived at through artificial devices preferable to a film that arrives nowhere, but stays real at all times? Well, I think so. And, judged that way, You Can Count On Me is a dreary waste of time.

About Kent Conrad

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