Nothing in the lives of Terry and Samantha Prescott--the brother and sister who form the heart of Kenneth Lonergan's wonderful You Can Count on Me--is tied up in a neat little bow either. Orphaned young when mom and dad died in a car accident, they've found different ways to cope. But though their approaches are worlds apart, they're linked by their shared tragedy, and they need each other desperately to make sense of things. Terry (Mark Ruffalo) has become a ne'er-do-well drifter who just can't handle the pressures of adult responsibility. Sammy (Laura Linney), by contrast, is a pressure cooker. A single mom to a single son, she's stayed in her small town and become a lending officer at the local bank, not to mention a control freak. When Terry tumbles home for a prolonged stay and begins bonding with young Rudy (Rory Culkin, who's a dead ringer for brother Macaulay), cracks begin to appear in Sammy's façade. Lonergan is a playwright by trade, one of those increasingly rare souls who understand that conversation and character development are the roast beef and mashed potatoes of any good story. His script scored an award at Cannes, and it deserves every accolade. It unfolds slowly, gradually revealing the complexities of its flawed small-town characters. Sammy begins the film as an almost too-together everymom; later, she's waffling on a marriage proposal from her staid-but-steady beau and engaging in a brief fling with her smarmy boss (Matthew Broderick, playing Ferris Bueller's whitebread twin). Fine acting helps close the deal, particularly from Linney, who ought to be able to parlay this performance into a ticket off the B-list. Lonergan also allows himself a hilarious cameo, appearing as a priest whose roll-with-the-punches approach to theology confounds his characters.
Without ever descending into a direct discussion of the effects of the car crash, Lonergan shows us how it's made the Prescotts inseparable emotionally. In doing so, he's made a film that's not happy and not sad, but unquestionably genuine.