Life is an inexplicably complex thing, which we are constantly striving to simplify for ourselves. Unfortunately this is neither realistic nor healthy for us. We have to confront our problems head on, for fear of losing ourselves to a sea of sorrows.
Manchester By The Sea (2016)
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
released on blu-ray February 21, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: *****/*****
Kenneth Lonergan is an American playwright, screenwriter, and director.
Something of a selective creator, he’s best known for his writing ability, having written the scripts for Analyze This, You Can Count On Me, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Analyze That, Gangs of New York, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea, and an upcoming miniseries called Howard. His directorial offerings are a little more slim but stemmed from his writing career – You Cant Count On Me, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea. I should also mention that while Lonergan is also a little slow to the table with his creative projects, when he serves as both director and writer, something good consistently happens.
Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an anti-social janitor and handyman in Quincy, Massachusetts, who learns from a family friend that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack. Unfortunately Joe dies before Lee arrives at the hospital, and Lee heads to his home-town Manchester-by-the-Sea to bring his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) the news. While arranging the funeral, Lee learns that Joe wanted him to be Patrick’s guardian.
Lee is unwilling to move back to Manchester, but does not want Patrick to be with his alcoholic mother, so he works to move Patrick to Boston instead. Patrick has many friends, two girlfriends and is in a band; he hates this idea.
We also learn that Lee used to live in Manchester with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three kids, but due to a mistake he made while intoxicated, a house fire took the lives of the children. He was never prosecuted, but Randi blamed him and they divorced. Lee then attempted suicide in a police station after he was found not guilty, but was contained. He moved to Boston shortly afterwards.
While they wait for the ground to thaw, Joe’s body remains in cold storage,and Lee stays in Manchester. Uncle and nephew become better friends and eventually Patrick’s mother Elise finds out about the situation. She offers to take Patrick in, but her sobriety is largely the responsibility of her controlling fiance Jeffrey. Lee also runs into a remarried Randi and her newborn. She regrets the things she said and confesses she still loves him. Lee does everything he can not to break down and leaves because he cannot stay in Manchester with her – He later picks a fight at a bar.
After finally arranging for family friend George to act as a legal guardian for Patrick, the pair have a heated discussion about why Lee cannot stay in Manchester any longer. After the funeral, Lee lets Patrick know that he is searching for a place with an extra room, so that Patrick can visit whenever he wants.
Pros: This might be a cliche, but this film is affecting. I was genuinely bummed out after watching it. The combination of raw performances, subtle scoring choices, and a well-laid script that pulls right out of the everyday make this film about death and mourning all the more powerful.
Cons: It takes a really long time to make it’s major points and there are a couple of moments where it feels like more of an exercise then a story.
Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes
Points of Interest: This is the first film distributed by a streaming service to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Matt Damon and John Krasinski were originators of the idea, asking for Damon to direct and Lonergan to write, and Damon to star in it, Damon eventually opted out due to scheduling conflicts, but remained on as a producer.
Lonergan understands intimately that life is full of grief. Wrongs which are never corrected plague us and while it can be nice to assume a storybook ending from a film, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The character of Lee is an excellent case study of a life unfulfilled, a responsibility not asked for, and working around the pain. A story about life lived in the world as it is, loose ends and all.
Allegations and personal issues of Casey Affleck aside, the arresting nature of this story, and what it addresses capture the pains of life. It seriously broke my heart to watch this movie, ever so slowly, because I’ve loved and lost, and I’ve been on the ends of good and of bad as well. Affleck never redeems his character, but the glimmer of movement forward despite that unresolved pain makes it a worthwhile story, at least that’s my theory anyway.