Director/writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Photography: Stephen Kazmierski
Music: Lesley Barber
Cast: Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin
Kenneth Lonergan's directorial debut—and to date the only film he's directed, though IMDb shows he's got another one in the can this year—stands as an astonishingly well done drama of family relations. The story, written by Lonergan, details the return of a wandering and soul-lost brother (Terry, played by Mark Ruffalo) to visit his single-mother sister (Sammy, played by Laura Linney) in their hometown in upstate New York where their parents died in an auto accident, leaving them as orphans on the cusp of adolescence. They are now in their late 20s or early 30s. Terry has become a despondent and self-destructive ne'er-do-well who flashes anger in a heartbeat while Sammy has turned to Catholicism and sex on the side to cope with her life working in a small bank and raising a kid on her own (good kid too, played by Rory Culkin). The performances from Ruffalo and Linney are absolutely outstanding. They take the complexities of Lonergan's nicely observed screenplay, the mixes of battling motivations of the two characters, who are suffering a deep pain at the bottom of everything they do, and raise the whole thing multiple notches at a time. There's a good deal of melodrama here—Terry's pregnant girlfriend back in his present home attempts suicide shortly after he arrives for his visit, Sammy starts up an affair with her boss (played by Matthew Broderick in a good performance) even as an old boyfriend has suddenly asked her to marry him—but Lonergan is smart enough to keep all of that grinding almost silently in the background, where it effectively puts the stress as much on the viewer as on the characters. There's good music here too—Lesley Barber's original score features sawing cellos that feel like tears welling up, and the country selections from Loretta Lynn and Steve Earle never fail to advance the story miles down the road even in their snippet appearances. This is a terrific movie that everyone from a family (and all you orphans too) owes themselves seeing. But Ruffalo and Linney are the reasons to revisit, and they make that worthwhile every time.