Review: Manchester By the Sea


I just signed up for a service called MoviePass.  Essentially, I can see one movie per day at pretty much any theater for a flat monthly rate.  In an attempt to fix my entertainment budget and to see more movies, this seems like a no-brainer.  So look for a ton of movie reviews from me going forward.

To kick things off, this morning I saw “Manchester By the Sea” starring Casey Affleck.  It’s the story of a family, plagued by trauma, and the impact that major events can have on relationships long lasting.  Trauma is a topic I’m immersed in lately in my professional work and this film does a very good job in showing some of the potential impact a traumatic event can have on a person, a family, and a community.  It also demonstrates the truth that everyone responds to traumatic events differently.

Affleck stars as “Lee Chandler,” the younger son of “Joe,” the ex-husband of “Randi,” and the uncle of “Patrick.”  We meet him as a handyman in Boston, about ninety minutes from his hometown of Manchester-By-The Sea.  Unfortunate things occur and Lee is reluctantly summoned home to take care of family business.

Affleck is restrained, and almost flat throughout much of the film.  As the story unfolds, his acting choices become more resonant. Many of his scenes are brilliant, especially the quieter, shorter interactions he has with the other characters in the film.

Kyle Chandler (“Joe”) turns in another solid every-man, likeable showing, while Lucas Hedges (“Patrick”) has an awkward, charismatic charm that compensates for the lack of depth in his portrayal of the sixteen-year-old nephew.

There are several tear-jerking scenes, including one between Affleck and Michelle Williams (“Randi”) where she tries to apologize for the way she handled the end of their relationship.  Director Kenneth Lonergan aids the two actors in unbelievable restraint, making this conversation painful to watch while maintaining and authenticity to the moment that mirrors the entire film.  

It never feels manipulative; just honest.  Lonergan, a well known writer, playwright (“Lobby Hero,” “This Is Our Youth”) and filmmaker, does a remarkable job telling this story without rushing things.  He knows how to pack an emotional punch but also knows when to layer in comedy to keep things from being too dark.

Other notable performances come from Anna Baryshnikov (“Sandy”), C.J. Wilson (“George”), and Matthew Broderick (“Jeffery”) and many others.  This is a large cast, and a wonderful one.  To talk much about the other characters – or any more of the plot – would reveal too many of the wonderful surprises in the script.  This two-hour plus drama is full of interesting story developments, slow-burn character studies, and beautiful cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes.  It’s getting a lot of award-season buzz.

The longer I sit with it, the more I like it.  I’m still not sure it’s as good as some are saying but I definitely left the theater satisfied.

Director(s): Kenneth Lonergan
Writer(s): Kenneth Lonergan
Notable Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges


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