“Manchester by the Sea” stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a quiet, boorish janitor who is called back to Manchester after his brother, Joe Chandler (played by Kyle Chandler), passes away. There, he mourns his brother’s death, as well as handles the difficulties of becoming the new guardian for Joe’s only child Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges), forcing Lee to face his past. We follow these two in an agonizing story of hardships and mishaps as Lee tries to figure out what is best for both of them in one of the most heart wrenching movies of the year.
I was stunned at the beauty and craftsmanship that Kenneth Lonergan (director and writer) made this movie with. The reoccurring, long panning shots over the water of Manchester and of Manchester itself blew me away. The amount of tact that these clips were edited in gave us as the audience breathing room throughout the film as well as the sheer beauty of each shot.
Lonergan tells the story using flashbacks to different points in the past to provide backstory for characters when necessary. Traditionally, I find this way of storytelling overused, cheesy, and ineffective. However, Lonergan masterfully presents these flashbacks in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed with the film and in fact, is used as a method to progress character development when necessary, rather than using them as a scapegoat for exposition.
What blew me away the most about this film was its ability to make the story feel real and human. The script makes each moment seem as if we are watching someone’s life unfold, rather than sitting in a theater watching a movie. It was able to create scenes that evoked true emotion from the audience, as well as giving us scenes that held real humor that felt genuine and spontaneous. At times, I felt the score could be a touch overbearing, but that was not enough to persuade me from not adoring this movie.
Casey Affleck gave a performance that floored me and could very well be the best performance of the year as his role as Lee. What Affleck does incredibly well as Lee is he never seemed to overact at any point; not once giving a flashy show of what he can do as an actor. Rather, he overpowered the audience with his subtlety and ability to create a character who feels like a real person, expressing seemingly genuine emotion. We as the audience struggle with this Affleck’s character, unsure of him at times and even disliking him. But, once his background is revealed to us, and we see all of the baggage he lugs around from his past through Lonergan’s brilliant storytelling, he grows to be a character we come to understand and sympathize with.
Some of the most powerful scenes in this movie are when Michelle Williams, playing as Randi Chandler, Lee’s ex-wife, and Affleck are sharing the screen. Williams thoroughly impresses me with her performance, using the minimal amount of screen time she was given to feel powerful when she is on screen and have a major influence on the plot as well as on the audience’s emotions. This allows her and Affleck to deliver heartfelt and soul wrenching scenes again and again throughout the film. Lucas Hedges is also great in the movie as the child who loses his father, and he is surprisingly the one who provides a lot of the comedic relief in the film. What I will note about Hedge’s performance is that his reaction to the loss of his father and his coping mechanism to the entire ordeal can seem all too real at times.
This is one of the heaviest movies I have ever had the pleasure and displeasure of seeing. At times, I found the film difficult to watch, just because of how emotionally attached I became to each character due to their genuine, human feel. The performances were absolutely fantastic across the board and I don’t believe that any actor or actress fell flat for even a second. I believe that Lonergan directed and wrote one of the best films of 2016 and that this should be a film that movie goers come prepared for and give time to resonate after watching.