Probably the weirdest thing about Manchester by the Sea is how it can be simultaneously so sad yet funny – two forms of emotion which are a stark contrast to each other. Emotionally resonating throughout its runtime, it visualizes grief in a very unique way, one which I haven’t seen before on-screen. It is impressively depressing in the way it presents dear loss as something which is unusually graceful on screen. Manchester by the Sea is pure art, and a triumph from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan who makes a much welcomed return with one of the best if not the most harrowing film of the year.
After the sudden passing of his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a sullen handyman in Boston, returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to receive his body. Upon Lee’s arrival, he is shocked to learn that Joe has named him as the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Still reeling with unspeakable sorrow from the death of his only sibling, Lee must deal with the fears of his past which was the detriment of all the relationships he held most dear to while tending to the uncertain future of Patrick.
Manchester by the Sea has a special story which is unfolded primarily through the flashbacks of Lee’s memory. This can be problematic because of how easily it can lead to confusion for the audience and continuity issues. But the transition from past to present and vice versa is seamless and never out of place or awkward. It can be attributed to the editing which is downright phenomenal. We are experiencing that horrible moment imagined through Lee’s nightmare the second he drifts off to the dark corners of his mind and we stay with him until he finally snaps out of the dismal daydream to present day. It was critical that those scenes flowed naturally with the audience since the content in them was crucial in elevating the story emotionally and in a narrative sense. It doesn’t let us down at all because it was especially well written and well-acted by the cast.
Every character is fully fleshed out in the film, even for Michelle Williams’s Randi (Lee’s ex-wife), who was restricted to an insubstantial number of minutes on-screen. Her nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards is questionable due to her short screen time, but she does her utmost best to make the most of what she has to work with in her scenes. She emphatically answers her half-time critics when she confides in Lee about all the hardship and suffering she had been through since the divorce with him and it is irrefutably one of the best female performances of the year.
Don’t let the unsatisfactory ending which you may have heard turn you down from seeing this film. Casey Affleck delivers a performance of a lifetime in this cinematic masterpiece from Lonergan. Arguably the most human film on the Best Picture award list, Manchester by the Sea doesn’t disguise the feeling of disparity as something which a fairy-tale romance can easily heal. It doesn’t need loved ones to be that beacon of optimism, to assure you that everything is going to be ok. In fact, Manchester by the Sea tells us that it is completely fine to never fully recover from a tragedy because realistically, if you ever experience something like what Lee did, you would need the will of a thousand men or a single Green Lantern to see yourself seek redemption.
Should you spend money on it? Yes, watch it twice.
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Caser Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol
Running time: 137 minutes