Manchester by the Sea
An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
The simple, ubiquitous story of Manchester by the Sea is elevated to award worthy status by genuine writing, directing, and acting. It is proof that concept can only rise to its full potential when all other elements come together. This is a film that could have been too heavy to ever get off the ground but somewhere in its drama it finds its wings to fly.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a reserved man living day to day in a preoccupied state of existence. He works hard, keeps his head down, and takes the blows as they come. When his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies Lee is put into a crucial position of raising his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee wants no part of this, not because he doesn’t care about Patrick but it will force him to face a past he has tried hard to escape. This begins a journey of struggle and redemption for the both of them.
Affleck is sensational in this film as a devastated man whose life turned on a dime. Lee is numb to the world around him which makes the thought of caring for another person nearly impossible. Patrick doesn’t understand Lee’s unwillingness to do this which in turn creates an important tension in the film. But it is so realistic and relatable. The two argue and interact the way real people would. One can be so angry with the other but you see it never diminishes the love that is inherent. Hedges may be a young actor but his ability to emote that balance of family and frustration is another reason this movie is such a success. Keep an eye on this guy. His movie career is going to be epic.
Kenneth Lonergan directed this film based on an original script he wrote. It is hard to figure out which to praise him for first. I guess the chicken wins out over the egg for without a script there would be nothing to direct. Lonergan writes rich characters with beating hearts and bleeding flesh. Their dialogue is never verbose or flamboyant. But it is genuine. Sometimes it says nothing at all. But those pauses come at the right time. There is a natural rhythm to the conversations that fold the characters in on one another. You may not like their decisions or how they respond but you get them. You know them. And more than often you can sympathize.
Affleck and Hedges are two strangers that meet on a soundstage and have to convince us they are family. Lonergan directs them so that what he has written comes to brilliant life. He guides them through the words on the page so that we have no problem believing the world in which they exist. And that is why the audience engages with the film from start to finish. As the whys and hows emerge you cry, laugh, and listen. Lee has a horrible burden and you want to help shoulder it.
Michelle Williams costars as Lee’s ex-wife Randi. Williams has already earned many nominations for this role so you would expect her to be in the film a lot. But she only makes a few appearances. It is what she does with the time she has that makes her notable. Randi’s brief exchange with Lee is enough to make you hand her the award yourself. It will move you considerably.
Manchester by the Sea is a heavy drama but not completely void of humor. Because life can be funny. In the midst of pain and sorrow we often have to find things to laugh at and with. This story finds these moments and graphs them in seamlessly. Again, just as you would expect it in reality. It is a human story and humanity is prevalent.
It is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content. This is a film for adults and they can handle the content. Life is messy and ugly and many times unfair. But people get through it. Never does this movie take that for granted. I give it 4 out of 5 awkward conversations. It is worthy of any praise it gets.