Quick Hit: So much feeling! that develops from this film, mainly due to Casey Affleck’s mesmerizing performance.
Oscar nominations tend to be about certain subjects – people overcoming giant obstacles (My Left Foot), historical biopics (Ghandi, The Theory of Everything), and transformative performances (Dallas Buyer’s Club). Therefore, it’s kind of nice to see some normal performances this year that just happen to be tremendous. Manchester By The Sea is a fantastic interpretation of family, of love, and of life after loss.
The movie follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor/handyman extraordinaire. It’s obvious by his exterior he just wants to do his job, and by his behavior that he has trouble communicating his feelings with people. We often see bits of flashback where Lee is behaving like a normal person and the effect is jarring – it’s almost as if we’re watching two separate characters. He has almost no emotion – even when his brother dies and he has to leave work. However, it’s starting with this that begin to see crack after crack within Lee’s exterior – particularly in his dealings with his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
We see the challenges that exist in their lives as they attempt to adjust to each other – how will each react? We also begin, through flashback, to explore the harrowing event that caused Lee to become the shell of a man that he is. As stated, it’s jarring to watch the difference between Past Lee and Future Lee, where a smile is something that is treasured and rarely given. When Future Lee smiles, it means something – as does almost everything in this film.
Overall, most films that rely on a flashback heavy story telling feel haltingly slow – and at times, even the brilliant Manchester falls into that. But, it’s through the beautiful cinematography that we are absorbed into the grief that is felt by all parties – slow, panning shots across the bay, focused shots on the boats in the marina, and distant shots of the car driving. The colors presented in this movie also back up the feelings, with largely grey and blue shades being presented. Despite the lighting, which is well executed, the whole movie feels shot through a filter made of Sadness from Inside Out.
We consistently see the men of the movie (make no mistake about Patrick – this event makes him a man) put on a stolid face, only to break down when alone. Lucas Hedges, for a young actor, displays a powerful range of emotions, and the scene when he breaks down due to the frozen meat is a perfect display of the random triggers that can cause grief.
I went into Manchester with little prior knowledge besides that it was a critical darling, and it was sad. I understand both points fully. I cried in this movie, and I really don’t that often in movies. Part of that comes with being a father of two beautiful boys that I love dearly. But a large part was the total immersion into Lee’s world that we get. We see the daily grind in the beginning, we see the struggles of adjustment in the middle, and we see the eventual progression of events moving on. The immersion comes from Affleck’s performance – the stony-eyed gazes and frequent bursts of raw anger – are perfection.
There is also quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout the bleakness in Manchester. Despite everything Patrick and Lee have been through, they still allow the characters to crack a joke. You, as an audience member, need this brief respite as much as the other characters. Whether it's the woman that is in love with her janitor as he plunges her toilet, or Lee asking Patrick about condoms, director Kenneth Lonergan shows a tenderness for his characters that translates through this humor.
But, despite the humor being wonderful, one of the best scenes is sad. One scene in particular stands out - when Lee runs into his ex-wife (played by Michelle Williams), who just wants to have a discussion. Every possible emotion plays across both of their faces, and we feel the emotion that is drowning them. I cannot imagine being in their position, but I can understand the confusion that would lie in that situation. Love doesn’t just go away with anger, many times, the time after anger is when love is the strongest.
Manchester By The Sea is a terrific film, and well deserving of all its nominations – Best Picture, Best Actor (Casey Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan), and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan). I highly recommend it with an “A+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"