Manchester by the Sea
Out Now On-Demand
Casey Affleck, in an Oscar- & Golden Globe-winning performance, leads this drama from writer-director (and playwright) Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me).
Lee (Affleck) leads a solitary existence as a janitor, but is forced to return to his small coastal hometown after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler). There, he juggles the new responsibility of being a guardian to his teenage nephew with painful memories, personal demons that plague him. Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and Gretchen Mol co-star.
Best Actor (Affleck) and Original Screenplay, Academy Awards 2017; Best Leading Actor (Affleck) and Original Screenplay, BAFTAs 2017; Best Actor in a Drama (Affleck), Golden Globes 2017
- Kenneth Lonergan('Margaret', 'You Can Count on Me')
Drama, Festival & Independent
Rating: R13 Violence, offensive language and content that may disturb
For an Oscar hopeful, writer/director Kenneth (You Can Count On Me, Margaret) Lonergan's wry, wrenching drama begins in about as mundane a manner as can be.
In a role earmarked for Matt Damon, who produces, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a glum Boston janitor for whom beer and bar fights provide life's only fleeting pleasures. Think: Good Will Hunting, sans mates and maths.
When his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies, Lee is called back to his hometown, the eponymous Massachusetts port, to play guardian to his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), even though - as Lee protests -"I'm just the back up." There's no easy redemption here, and the pair’s interactions are alternately frosty, funny and awkward, with Lee’s depressed diffidence threatening to suffocate the whole film - until, that is, what's really wrong becomes apparent.
As a broken man trapped in a situation he can't shrug or slug his way out of, Affleck has never been better. Hedges, who looks just like Damon, excels as his horny, angry charge. And Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, makes a no-doubt Oscar-winning impression in just a handful of heartfelt scenes. Lonergan, meanwhile, makes clever use of disarming details - mumbled miscommunications, misfiring props, a misplaced car - to undercut any melodrama.
What emerges is as subtle as it is shattering: ordinary, unshowy and, underneath, red raw with real feelings. If, as one critic noted, Lee has no Good Will Hunting-style "It’s not your fault” moment, that's because, a) life’s never that simple, and b) it’s just not that type of film.
The Guardian (UK)
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
NZ Herald (Alex Casey)
Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)
Bleak but worthy
If you want to know who the middle America is who voted for Trump look no further than the good people of Manchester. These are your basic insular mid-westerners who spend their lives 'getting by'.
These are finely crafted studies of people dealing with a sudden death. Each actor does a stirling job and the combination of superb acting and a haunting score make this a very memorable film.
Painful battles with inner demons made bearable by outstanding performances
Cinema portrayals of angry people are not usually enjoyable entertainment yet we are fascinated by films that dwell entirely on simmering angst. Manchester by the Sea (2016) is such a film. Perplexing, unsettling, yet engaging, it is a story without joy that is made bearable by outstanding performances and superb cinematography.
The plotline has a simple core narrative framed by several abrupt flashbacks that gradually piece together a jigsaw-like story. We meet Lee (Casey Affleck) as a handyman and depressive loner whose temper blows over at little provocation. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he lives in self-exile because of a horrible family tragedy he caused. He has become emotionally hollowed out and unable to relate to people. Suddenly his brother has a fatal heart attack and his will names Lee as executor and guardian of 16 year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But to accept this responsibility, Lee must move back to the idyllic seaside town of Manchester by the Sea which is full of traumatic memories, including of his attempted suicide, his divorced wife, and people who are wary of him. He stays for the funeral, drinks heavily, lashes out physically, argues with his teenage nephew, and wants to cut and run. Gradually, he becomes emotionally re-connected with family and place through the experience of caring for the typically full-of-himself nephew. Lee’s traumatic past makes way for new beginnings, new relationships, and the hope of redemption.
If you look for originality in storytelling, there is little of it here. Painful battles with inner demons is a cliché, and fighting several at once is simply a compound cliché not something new. Half of this film is spent on assembling the narrative jigsaw so we can understand what makes Lee the way he is, and the other half is spent on standard melodrama tropes about re-connecting by caring for someone else. However, it is the casting, characterisation, and cinematography that save this film from being just another story of angry people destabilised by tragedy. Casey Affleck does trauma and ambivalence very effectively. His bemused tolerance of his nephew’s demands and sexual exploits becomes the emotional scaffold that guides his calming from pot-boiling anger to resigned acceptance that life must go on. Lucas Hedges is the perfect foil for Casey Affleck, and both are helped by a strong support ensemble.
Brilliant acting by Affleck does not hide the film’s melodramatic predictability. But this slow essay on anger would be more unsettling were it not for its joyful filming. Trauma is calmed and un-likable characters forgiven when all are nestled against beautiful images of bobbing fishing vessels lapping the shores of charming Manchester by the Sea. The camerawork visually warms the film and helps bind its elements into an engaging story of loss and redemption.