Gentle story slow to start, reluctant to end

Review of You Can Count on Me (2000)

Review of You Can Count on Me (2000) movie, by Stefan Stenudd

The movie raised my hopes tremendously, with the brilliant starting scene. A couple in a car. The woman asks herself out loud, why girls need braces just at the time of their life when appearance means the most to them. Then, wham, a car crash.

Ever Young. Supernatural fiction by Stefan Stenudd. Ever Young
Supernatural fiction by Stefan Stenudd
Caroline meets those who do not age, and this ability can be transmitted. But there are grisly downsides. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).

       That's a brilliant opening. Almost too good, because it's a tough act to follow. The film fails, losing its charge quite quickly, by settling in a far too recognizable presentation. Not until half way into it, does it get on track again — but never to the extent that it matches the intro.

       During far too many minutes, it's simply hard to care, since everything is just too ordinary. It goes on being very ordinary, but about an hour into the film, there is at least some twist to it. Some good moments, though rare. The best one is when Sammy, the female lead, drives her car home after a secret rendez-vous with an unlikely lover, and bursts into sudden laughter. A wonderful laughter, saying such a lot.

       There are other scenes, where silence speaks fluently, through very skilled acting and a good sense of timing. There are some good actors in it. Matthew Broderick is very precise as a slightly repulsive boss worthy of a Freudian analysis, and still neither a monster nor a parody. Laura Linney also balances on the border between sympathetic and neurotic. And the boy, the younger Culcin, again makes me marvel at the Hollywood ability to make child actors perform so splendidly. I don't know how they do it, I'm not even sure I want to know.

       The weak one is Mark Ruffalo, playing the slightly Bohemian brother, but staying far too safely in the Prince Charming spectrum, whatever he does. It's really disturbing. If he could, at all, he should have allowed his character to be less agreeable, less safe. That was what the story seemed to call for.

       Well, the story is not that strong, either. It's pretty much a scramble of the usual drama cliches. Only at short moments does it stand out, like in how the Ruffalo character deals with the little boy's fantasy image of his absent father, or in the dialogue where the local priest tries to give him some spiritual guidance. That's a masterly dialogue, where both are allowed to say wise and reasonable things. An argument on such a high level, though brief, that there can be no winner of it.

       Otherwise, the film makes little impact. And the far too slow ending — naah, it is just a way of surrendering to the lack of a really good story.

Stefan Stenudd
9 January 2003

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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both Swedish and English. I'm also an artist, an historian of ideas and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.