|What a welcome antidote to just about everything on any of your local multiplex's screen on any given weekend. I don't just mean the latest CGI-driven franchise; I especially mean the movies that promise, as the blurb here puts it, "a remarkably honest and moving experience" -- but never come anywhere near the honesty and, er, movingness of this marvellous film.
Right off the bat, I have to say: Give it a chance. This is a slow burner. The opening shots don't bode well. Though much of it is photographed beautifully, the first few minutes aren't. And the music is handled pretty clumsily throughout. I'm also not completely convinced that Lonergan really understands 8-yr-olds, but we have no 4.5 rating, and the positives so overwhelm these negatives I mention that I'm going for that rare 5.
So, what are those positives? Besides the honesty and movingness, of course? Well, let's not leave off with the honesty right away. The performances are all outstanding, including Lonergan's own wonderful turn as the priest who aches to help but knows his limitations all too well. And the performances are built on an amazing screenplay. Soon enough, you'll be wondering what happens next, but you'll also realize that these people are so real, so human, you have no idea. They're not walking along Joseph Campbell Hero trajectories like so many other shadowy creations of the last couple of generations of screenwriters have. They face disruptions in their lives, yes; but their crises aren't built on plot points leading them to Valuable Lessons which they use to overcome their adversaries and live happily ever after.
Then there are the themes. Take Lonergan's priest, for example. Interestingly, we see much, much less of a recognition that religion plays any sort of role in Americans' lives these days than in the heyday of the Hollywood studios, but it's here, in just the right contextual dose that aligns perfectly with its role in small-town American life (and, to boot, Lonergan's priest is so post-Vatican-the-Sequel, he'd never have made it past a Hollywood censor back in the day).
Ultimately, You Can Count on Me settles on a note that's become, in less talented hands, the feel-good philosophy and modus operandi of the day: We don't know. We don't know what it's all about, we don't always know what's right or wrong, we're just doing our damnedest. But hell, it's worth a shot. In this case, though, Lonergan has been so straightforward with you, you forget all those other times it came to you coated in a layer of schmaltz. Hey, it's honest. And yeah, it does move you.