The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Monday, March 19, 2001

And What Can You Count On?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Where I live, there's a real movie theater. Not one of those flimflam mall complexes with a dozen screens. A real, old-fashioned art-deco theater, built in 1933, with just one large room with a 35-plus foot ceiling. Over the past seven years it's been beautifully restored. It's an amazing place to really see a movie. When it's two-thirds full, attending a movie feels like a special occasion. The other night I drove the six long blocks from my house to the theater, on Sonoma Square, to see "You Can Count on Me." (Some months ago I caught "The Tao of Steve" there.) There's an added resonance in seeing a film that's set in a small town in an old movie theater in a real small town. You can usually park your car right across the street from the theater - and there's no meter, if you can imagine that. "You Can Count on Me" is a superb film (which includes some awesome, exactly-right songs by Steve Earle); it's about a brother (Terry) and sister (Sammy) who are orphaned when their parents die in a car crash. It's a hard film to watch, because it's so good at making you feel the emotions of Sammy and Terry. It's a film that asks a lot of questions; I don't think it answers many of them. There's no neat little upbeat Hollywood ending. It's not what they call a "feel good" movie. (Which is good, because the very idea of a "feel good" movie makes me sick.) "You Can Count on Me," written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, is about a lot of things, but one of them is the struggle between committing to something, and the desire to leave all the options open. The tension between the security and safety of what we know, and the adrenaline rush of the dangerous, or the unknown. This stuff is archetypal — do you fill a backpack with what you need and get on a bus headed for somewhere else, or stay put? Sammy has never lived anywhere but in the two-story house in the small town where she and Terry grew up. She works for a bank, is a divorced single parent. Terry is a bum who's drifted from place to place, job to job, served some time in jail for a barroom brawl. He comes home to "borrow" more money from Sammy. But he hasn't had such a good time out there in the big, bad world; the shelter of the house he owns half of, and the comfort of his sister and her bright young son Rudy, are just too appealing. So at Sammy's invitation he decides to stay awhile. Terry means well, but he's a fuckup. Often, you can't count on him. And the boredom of a small town where nothing happens — at least from his point of view — is too much. Not that his sister is Ms. Perfect. To fend off loneliness she has an affair with her asshole boss Brian (who has a pregnant wife) and then feels guilty enough about it to consult with her priest. She also occasionally sleeps with a guy in town named Bob, who works at a real estate office or something like that; he's about as exciting as watching a car rust. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, Sammy, lonely one night, first calls Brian but hangs up quickly when his wife answers. Then she calls Bob, but hangs up 'cause she can't stomach being with him just to fend off the darkness. Then in a fit of frustration she knocks the phone, and the answering machine that's attached to it, to the floor. The film ends when Terry decides to hit the road, and his sister sees him off on a bus headed across the country. There are no pat answers here for Terry, or for Sammy. After I saw "You Can Count On Me," I was listening to Wilco's A.M. and these lines fit: "Wish I had a lot of answers/ 'cause that's the way it should be/ For all these questions/ Being directed at me." You hope, because you come to care about Sammy and Terry and Rudy too, that they'll all do OK, but you don't know. Kinda like it is in real life, if you go about a half-inch below the surface. We put up the brave front, imagine that there is some security in the familiar, or that we'll find nirvana if we just move somewhere new. We all want to feel alive, really alive, not like we're sleepwalking toward the grave. "You Can Count on Me" is a reminder of how hard that is. I walked out of the theater into the cool night air, and crossed the street to the sidewalk that borders the small park at the center of town. A street lamp set off the branches of a tree against the sky. It was beautiful, and I took a photograph of it.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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