Manchester by the Sea is one of my favorite films of 2016; it’s also a film I’m pretty sure I never want to see again. I remember catching the trailer before seeing Arrival; it looked like your standard quirky indie film where our main character is thrust into an uncomfortable situation and by the end he learns to love. This is definitely not that kind of story; Manchester by the Sea is astonishingly depressing. When I left the theater I was in an instant funk thinking about my own life issues, and how I relate to the way a few of the characters deal with the death of their loved ones.
The story follows Lee Chandler played by Casey Affleck. Lee is this antisocial handyman living and working in an apartment complex. At first, his avoidance of human interaction is funny and peculiar, but it quickly becomes unsettling and, at times, terrifying. Lee is the type of person who gets into brutal bar fights just to punish himself. He’s distant to everyone, even his family who he had lost contact with about eight years prior. He finds out that his brother, Joe (played by Kyle Chandler), has died from heart failure. There’s hints here and there alluding to why Lee is the way he is, and eventually there’s a reveal, but it’s hard not to hate Lee for the way he reacts to his brother’s death beforehand, and it’s especially hard not to hate him for the way he treats most of the people he encounters. Joe charges Lee with caring for Patrick, Joe’s teenage son. Immediately Lee declines, not wanting to uproot his life in Boston to come back to his hometown in Manchester, despite the ramifications it would have on Patrick and his teenage social life. Teenage Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, has friends, two different girlfriends he’s involved with, and a hockey team he plays on. Lee and Patrick try and cope with one another’s eccentricities, but ultimately they both have this crushing amount of distance between the two and you can’t help but want them to overcome it by the time the credits roll.
Honestly, that’s all I want to give away about the film; it has to be experienced. Every single actor involved in this picture, from the leads to the extras, is magnificent. There’s a scene involving Michelle Williams that literally broke my heart watching it. Sometimes when you see an actor or an actress cry in a movie it just comes off as silly and fake; crying is not a pretty thing to see people do, and Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck have this scene that is so raw, so intense, and so brilliant that it absolutely deserves both of them Golden Globes, Oscars, and anything else they qualify for. Both Ben O’Brien and Lucas Hedges do a fantastic job of playing Patrick at different points of his life. It’s heartbreaking to see young Patrick’s relationship with Lee contrasted with Lee’s relationship with the teenage Patrick; death has changed both of them, and you desperately want things to go back to the way they were before tragedy changed them.
The only major gripe I have with the film is the soundtrack; there’s this dramatic scene where we finally find out why Lee is so broken, withdrawn, and adamantly against moving back to Manchester; this scene is incredibly painful to watch, but the background music doesn’t fit in with what’s happening on the screen, and it ultimately distracts me from what is supposed to be a major gut punch. There are a few other instances where the soundtrack doesn’t fit, but nothing as jarring as the one previously mentioned. Aside from this issue, the film is just wonderful, just don’t go in expecting any sort of happy ending where everything gets resolved and all of the characters go through a change for the better. Like I said before, this is a very dark and grim film. It certainly left a major impact on me, and it’s the kind of film that will stick with me for years…Hell, I’ll even buy it when it comes out on Blu-ray, but it’s definitely not a film I’ll return to frequently. It’s too real, and a majority of the time I prefer to escape that sort of realism with my movie going experiences. Catch it in theaters, just be sure to bring a shit ton of tissues.
Manchester by the Sea (2016) Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan. Written by: Kenneth Lonergan. Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
9 out of 10