- on Friday, 16 December 2016 16:11
- by Frank Wilkins
Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan follows up the success of his two previous directorial efforts, You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), with Manchester by the Sea, a film that knocked ‘em dead at this year’s Sundance and promises equal praise as it releases wide around the country this week.
Lonergan is certainly a talented director, but it is his brilliant writing that sets the man apart from his peers. Few are capable of capturing human emotions the way Lonergan does and no other filmmaker is as adept at making actors feel like real people. We don’t watch his movies. Rather, we experience them. We’re compunctious voyeurs into the raw and honest lives of real human beings. This is true of his previous films, and is certainly the case with Manchester by the Sea.
We first meet Lee Chandler as a Boston handyman charged with the custodial duties of a series of working class apartment buildings. He’s good at unclogging toilets, changing light bulbs, and fixing leaks. But is terrible at human relationships. He’s quiet, genial and prefers to keep to himself inside his sparse one-room apartment. But he always seems on the verge of a fit of rage. Social interaction certainly isn’t a strong suit.
Via flashbacks, we see Lee in much happier days. He enjoys fishing with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and nephew Patrick (played as a young boy by Ben O’Brien). There’s an encouraging light about him, a jovial spirit to his demeanor, and a pep in his voice.
We also learn that, in his earlier days, Lee was somewhat of a fun-loving party animal who spent many a night drinking with the boys in the basement game room while infuriated wife Randi (Michelle Williams) tended to their three young children. It’s clear that something went devastatingly wrong with the marriage, but it’s not until the film’s halfway point that we learn what changed Lee. It’s a devastating and truly heartbreaking turn of events, but Lonergan doesn’t focus on the event itself, but rather with how we humans deal with tragedy. Some figure it out, mourn appropriately, and get on with their lives. Others never get over it. Lee is of the latter ilk. He is a man in pain.
Meanwhile, upon learning of the death of his brother back in Manchester, Lee is tasked with tending to Joe’s final affairs, which includes what to do with his 15-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) who has yet to come to grips with the loss of his father. Stipulations in Joe’s will designate Lee as Patrick’s guardian and that he must move back to Manchester to raise him. But gone are the fun-loving days of fishing with his nephew, replaced by the haunting nightmares of coming back home to face the greatest tragedy of his life.
Lonergan expertly immerses his tale of the power of familial love, community, and sacrifice in a rich New England sense of place that perfectly reflects the film’s gloomy overtone with gray skies and a dismal, barren landscape. Some of his extended establishing shots that feature the barren northeastern Massachusetts coastline feel a bit forced as they play beneath Lesley Barber’s often jarring score. Lonergan’s flashbacks aren’t always seamless and occasionally seem to pop up out of nowhere for no clear reason.
Lonergan really excels when his camera is pointed at people. He is clearly an actor’s director and his ability to get the most from his performers is a rare but beautiful thing to experience. His richly drawn characters come to life with an honest authenticity that makes us believe. We’re deeply invested in every one of them and our heart aches as each struggles with the life-changing decisions that come their way.
There isn’t a convenient conclusion to Manchester by the Sea, nor does it wrap things up into a nicely-tied bow. That’s just not how life is. It’s an extremely human story of how grief and depression can eat away at the soul and leave its victims a hollowed-out shell. You’ll be blown away by the warmth and rawness of the emotional spectrum with which Lonergan crafts his story. Manchester by the Sea is one of the year’s best films and certainly one of the season’s must-sees. You’ll laugh, and you’ll cry, but mostly you’ll see how, at any moment, life can be changed. It’s how we choose to deal with life’s curve balls that defines who we are.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexual content
Runtime: 137 mins
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Memorable Movie Quote: "I can't beat it. I can't beat it."
Theatrical Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Official Site: http://manchesterbytheseathemovie.com/
Release Date: December 16, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.