"Manchester By the Sea" is an emotional gut-punch of a film.
Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges Deliver Knock-out Performances
There’s a pervasive, unescapable irony that rings deafeningly throughout “Manchester by the Sea,” the latest by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan and certainly his most marvelous achievement thus far.
The film is dreary, with a pair of unlikeable characters at the forefront (and others on the side), and loss and death are consistent themes throughout.
Somehow, the film strives to also be lighthearted, humorous and hopeful. It succeeds, resulting in a delicate but exasperating portrayal of life, and probably the most well-put-together film of the year.
The world may have forgotten about Casey Affleck, but with “Manchester by the Sea,” he finally has his inevitable landmark performance. He is monumental as Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman who lives a mundane life out of a one-room living space that is a physical manifestation of his emotional reach.
Lee is the social equivalent of a Stairmaster, even when he receives the news of his brothers’ passing, to which it doesn’t seem he knows how to react.
What comes next is a whirlwind as Affleck is forced to care for his nephew, Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, who matches Affleck’s brutally convincing performance. If Affleck receives his first Academy Award nomination – and I expect he will – it’s only right that Hedges gets one of his own after a breakout performance.
Lonergan has crafted a film in which seemingly every scene is brimming with emotional depth. The moments of eruption are not only superbly directed, but immensely memorable for the way they interweave humanity with the kind of merciless humor that seems authentic of the Bostonian culture Affleck personifies.
There’s also a sense of duality as Lee must deal with pieces of his past he’d obviously rather leave very much alone. The film whiplashes between Lee’s struggles to get along with his nephew and a seemingly much more blissful prior life on the family boat with a much younger Patrick and his brother; but it also shows us how Lee got to be the emotionally distant person he is today. And it’s a revelation that takes as much toll on us as it does on Lee.
Lonergan’s script is one of the best of the year. The film feels like a novel; it’s not the briskest experience, but there are so many stacked layers to a seemingly simple premise. The world of the Boston suburb Manchester is so incredibly detailed, the film basically functions as a postcard – not just as a window to that city and a family that has as many problems as any other, but also as a portrayal of changing relationships.
“Manchester by the Sea” is brutally honest in that regard. It simultaneously reminds us that movies shouldn’t always be an escape of reality, but rather cutting affirmations of the life – with all its regrets, fragility, confusion and tender heartache – that is still going to be there once we leave the theater doors.