May 19, 2024

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Geek Review: Manchester By The Sea

A moving examination of how much it can hurt to go home again.

It’s awards season, which means all the bigger movies the studios were pinning Oscar hopes on are coming out.

Better enjoy it while we can.  January releases tend to go the opposite direction.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s new film Manchester by the Sea.  SPOILER-free review after the cut.

The film opens with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman with few social skills.  His life seems to be going nowhere, and about all we can tell is he sometimes hauls off and starts swinging when life is getting to him.  Then he gets a call his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a heart attack, and Joe dies as Lee drives to the town he used to call home of Manchester.  We learn in short order that Joe is divorced from the mother of his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  Lee himself has an ex-wife (the always-phenomenal Michelle Williams) that he doesn’t seem to want to deal with for reasons that become clear as the movie progresses.

Lonergan has a fantastic eye for directing.  Sweeping shots of the New England countryside emphasize the beauty and the isolation of the Massachusetts winter.  As for Affleck, his quiet performance masks a lot of guilt and self-loathing.  The reasons for this become clear about halfway through the movie when flashbacks show the incident that turned Lee’s happy life into its current misery.  He’d like nothing more than to leave Manchester again, but then learns Joe arranged for Lee to be Patrick’s legal guardian until the boy turns 18.  Lee was never consulted on this, so for now he’s stuck in a town he has good reason to want to avoid.

This isn’t a movie where the protagonist’s feelings or thoughts are ever explained.  Lee utters a small sentence near the end of the movie that comes as close to explaining everything he’s feeling, and some small gestures by the often-abrasive Patrick allow the two men to grow closer after the long absence, and in many ways the movie depicts a man dealing with deep-seeded depression very well.  This likewise isn’t a movie for easy answers, but instead is one that should give the audience pause and move them to feel for a man who perhaps doesn’t feel much of anything anymore.

Ten out of ten drummers with no rhythm.  If the film has any flaws, maybe its underutilizing the fantastic Williams, though this story isn’t really her character’s, and the last scene she has is about as powerful as it gets.