MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (USA/15A/137mins)
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Ben O’Brien, Kyle Chandler, Mary Mallen
THE PLOT: Lee (Casey Affleck) is a Boston handyman who does odd jobs for local tenants. He is a quiet fellow who internalises his guilt but lashes out with his anger, sometimes at the tenants – much to the chagrin of his boss. Lee has a close relationship with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and occasionally spends time with his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in the seaside town of Manchester By The Sea. However, Joe dies of heart problems so Lee is called back to look after Patrick. This is when he finds out that Joe has assigned guardianship rights to him. Unprepared for this level of responsibility, Lee tries to adjust to looking after Patrick until he is old enough. Patrick is a busy guy though with two demanding girlfriends. Being back in Manchester By The Sea brings past memories to the surface for Lee, including memories of his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and a tragedy that befell them…
THE VERDICT: ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is just Kenneth Lonergan’s third film in 17 years. He first made quite an impression with ‘You Can Count On Me’ in 2000. This was followed by the overlong, troubled production Margaret. After the fraught editing room battle over that film, Lonergan could be forgiven for hanging up his director’s megaphone. However, he has returned with quiet confidence for a film that is both funny and moving in equal measures.
Originally approached by Matt Damon to write the script for which Damon would also direct and star, Lonergan has crafted a beautifully-written character piece about how the past influences the present, dealing with grief and how it affects the lives of people in many different ways. Lonergan is just the right director for this material, as he knows how to delicately balance the happy / sad nature of life, with all its ups, downs and sideways turns. Despite what seems like an initially heavy-going film about loss, the film is more amusing than it appears. It is warmly funny throughout, rather than throwing in an occasional joke to lighten the mood. The contrasting banter between the world-weary Lee and the younger, naive Patrick is a highlight.
Affleck is a revelation here, thoroughly deserving of his recent Best Actor Golden Globe. He has often been an under-rated actor who falls under the shadow of his more famous older brother. He deftly guides us through Lee’s malaise and sense of dissatisfaction in life. He is drifting and needs a purpose, an anchor for his life. He is ably supported by Hedges and the heart-breaking Williams, as well as a fine supporting cast – even the smaller roles like Broderick’s stepfather get a chance to shine.
If there is a message in the film, it is that people have the capacity to change, if they want to of course. Awkwardness is a theme running throughout the film too – nobody quite knows what to say in some scenes. That is the imperfectness of life. The overall impression of ‘Manchester By The Sea is’ that it is a genuine, sensitively written drama about how people cope with loss and change. That is something we can all relate to. Welcome back, Mr Lonergan.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    Director Kenneth Lonergan brings us “Manchester By The Sea”, a quietly moving and thoughtful drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams as a divorced couple brought back together by a family death. Lonergan’s film explores family ties and emotional trauma and while the overall mood is sad and melancholic, the film is not without many patches of humour and it is remarkably true to life. It is a remarkably rewarding drama, one you will remember for years.

    Casey Affleck is Lee, an apartment-building Boston janitor who is depicted as curt, dour, and occasionally argumentative, one of those solitary people who keeps away from others. A phone call, informing him of the death of his idolized older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), sends Lee home to Manchester, the fishing village where he grew up. There he must reluctantly take on responsibilities that include funeral arrangements and also becoming the guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). It’s an arrangement for which neither of the two are quite prepared and is a major problem for Lee, who has made every effort to remove himself from society. It means he must stay for far longer than he originally intended in a town that wants no part of him. Patrick, though shaken by the loss of his beloved dad, is a refreshingly normal kid who quickly gets back
    to his girlfriends, rehearsing his band and hanging with his pals. There is a constant sense of mystery and a hint of an unexplained backstory. As the story progresses, we gradually learn, through multiple flashbacks, what happened in the past. The question is whether Lee can finally conquer the trauma that made him leave in the first place and shrug off the torturous past that he hangs on his shoulders. He also finds himself having to cope with the constant possibility of running into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), who feels guilty about their split and with whom he shares painful memories.
    Casey Affleck’s performance as the story’s lead character, Lee Chandler, is central to the film’s excellence. He delivers a career-best performance, bringing a pathos and wounded torment to the character. The film is essentially a character study unfolding with mystery and regret, and Affleck rises to the task admirably. In fact, all the film’s key actors deliver matchless performances. Hedges gives a moving performance as the teenage Patrick, who is juggling two girlfriends and has a delayed reaction to the loss of his father. Watching the two outwit and interact with each other is one of the big pleasures of the film. Michelle Williams is great in a small but memorable part as the mouthy, acid-tongued, no-nonsense wife in the scenes of a happier past and later when she bumps into Lee on the street in and, in one of the best scenes, she begins to recall their history, telling him she’s broken-hearted.
    Despite the fact that “Manchester By The Sea” is primarily about sombre and tragic events, it is surprising how enjoyable I found it. It is due to the skill of the director, that the film never wallows in melancholy and Lonergan’s sharp script finds humour in even the very darkest moments through the use of realistic dialogue along with the longer stretches of silence. The story unfolds slowly offering an interesting insight into the complexities of life, love and loss. However,
    the film is less interested in tragedy than how people cope and react to it. For some, they learn to live, others move on, others just get by but some never recover and time cannot heal the wounds. This is a film is a real movie highlight this season and one you would be well advised not to miss.

  • Joseph McCarthy

    This is bleak. Really bleak. The film opens wih Casey Affleck’s handyman Lee’s life in a mess as he rejects contact with others and openly seeks to get into fights, when a phone call from home informs him that his older brother Joe has died and subsequently learns that Joe had nominated him as guardian of Joe’s son Patrick. Lee feels he is incapable of the role, and why he feels this way and why Lee’s life is in the state it is is revealed in flashbacks.
    While an excellent film, well written, acted and shot, it’s very hard to recommend to someone to see it, but you reall should.

  • Clive Bower

    You really can tell from the first 5 minutes of a film if you are going to be sucked in .
    Manchester By The Sea caught my attention from word go, really well played and told as a story. Glad to say worth the good write ups it’s been getting, a well worth trip to the cinema had