Manchester by the Sea is brutally honest, depressing, funny, and refreshing in its aversion of the clichés that would normally inhabit a story like it. I quite liked it as I saw it, yet I’m still certain I will need to see it again to appreciate it in the amount it truly deserves.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan (whose previous works I am now more eager to check out), this is one of the better movies to revolve around grief and loss that I’ve seen in recent times. 2016 was evidently a good year for this, what with movies like Arrival and A Monster Calls dealing with a similar subject. There was also Collateral Beauty but let’s pretend there wasn’t.
But this film is so much more than that. It has been described as a film about parenting, biological or not, and even forgiveness. We meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a cold and lonesome handyman in Quincy, who is called out to the snowy Manchester-by-the-Sea, where his family roams, upon the news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away in cardiac arrest. As the film progresses, flashbacks explore the relationship the two brothers had with each other and Joe’s son Patrick, as well as the family life Lee shared with a woman named Randi (Michelle Williams), who divorced him after certain things took place.
I’ve made no secret of my growing disdain towards flashbacks as of late. However, this is a film that knows how and when to use them, culminating in a moment where everything we’ve seen makes sense and we see the heart-wrenching justification for Lee’s initially unlikable behavior.
In the present day, he learns that he has been assigned to look after Patrick, now 16 years of age and played by Lucas Hedges. The chemistry he shares with Affleck defies all praise and thanks to the aforementioned lack of clichés, it was often difficult to know where the film was going.
In several other respects, Manchester by the Sea is near flawless. The actors are so great – especially, of course, the rightly Oscar nominated Affleck (who never once enters ‘Oscar Bait territory or overacts) and his nominated co-stars Hedges and Williams – and so well-directed that I even managed to tolerate a Mathew Broderick cameo. The shots are skillfully executed, the writing doesn’t seem like “writing” so much as it seems like regular conversations on Planet Earth, the dry wit of the dialogue never ruins the tone; there is just so much to love about this movie.
Nevertheless, I do want to issue some minor complaints. There are a few scenes that steer close to the land of cheese, some parts where the editing feels sloppy, one or two moments that only seem to exist for the sake of padding out the runtime, the occasional on-the-nose line of dialogue, and a few obvious stock sound effects that I recognized from the Gary Gadget games me and my brothers grew up with. Still, none of this is enough to hurt your investment or your connection with the story being told, which is so universally relatable that scenes with minimal emotion from the characters and unremarkable cinematography are still made impactful from something as simple as the characters’ body posture and vacant facial expressions.
I won’t give this film my highest rating because of some of the small errors I’ve listed above, as well as a somewhat detrimental ending that made me feel dissatisfied. But the there is still a lot to admire about the film – the infinitesimal subtleties, the way the flashbacks are weaved together with present-day to create a subtle yet noticeable contrast, the musical choices, realism that often makes you forget you’re watching performers read lines, and the actors (Affleck more than anyone else, especially the child actors).
I am ashamed that I didn’t get around to watching this film before releasing my Best of 2016 list and since I can’t use the excuse that this film was released here a year late, I’m forced to call it a possible late addition to the 2016 list. Though a touch over-hyped, it definitely has its reputation for a reason.
Down below is a trailer and my final rating. Also, if anyone has the free time to do it, we could also use a supercut of every time a character in this movie utters the phrase “shut up”.