Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Liam McNeill, C.J. Wilson
Running Time: 137 mins
Release date: 13th January, 2017
Kenneth Lonergan, playwright turned filmmaker is back with his latest film MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. A film of grief and humour, contradicting emotions but entirely plausible in the setting.
Lonergan’s previous films YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and MARGARET play around with similar themes of loss and tragedy and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is no different.
Casey Affleck (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) plays Lee, janitor, handyman, loner. He lives in a small, unloved one bed apartment and sulks around the building fixing, toilets, leaks and shovelling snow. What looks like a mundane life and a slow start to the film is enlightened by the comic interjections of the residents. Affleck’s straight face, no care approach annoys the residents or in some cases just makes him more alluring.
After the sudden death of his brother (Kyle Chandler, THE WOLF OF WALLSTREET), Lee is forced back to his home town and becomes the legal guardian to his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges, MOONRISE KINGDOM). It’s from this point that Lonergan reveals a series of flash backs to the events leading up to Lee’s departure from his hometown.
A mysterious man with a chip on his shoulder, drinking alone in bars and starting fights, it quickly becomes apparent that Lee is a deeply troubled character. Affleck portrays him with such precision that with each shot we see his pained expression sketched onto his face. Even with the occasional witty one liner, Affleck keeps his stern exterior but changes it in a way to give the scene that comic touch.
Lee tries making himself at home where he once used to live, but memories of a happier time with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams, a brief role but the nonetheless effective) haunt him. His cold exterior and dark past is puzzling to the audience which sometimes weighs down the film, but Lee’s withdrawn and solitary character stays with him and it’s just something you get used to.
Lee’s nephew Patrick is a welcome addition and helps lift the mood of the film. Patrick is a sixteen-year-old boy, in a terrible band but somehow manages to juggle between two girlfriends. Lee and Patrick’s relationship is a working progress. They both deal with their grief in different ways, Lee buries and consumes his grief, whereas Patrick is keen to revert back to normality. There’s one particular scene where Patrick has an outpouring of grief, and what you’d think would be a real tear jerker of a scene, involves some frozen chicken and is actually surprisingly funny.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a real testament to Lonergan’s screen writing, which effectively portrays the dysfunctional family in a melodrama of bottled emotions, strained relationships and dark humour. If you’re looking for something with a great cathartic ending where Patrick saves his uncle from his troubled past, then keep looking. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA isn’t that type of film. Lonergan has more respect for his characters to deliver such a clichéd ending.
This isn’t just a film about others coming to terms with the past and it isn’t just a film where two opposites help each other heal. It’s a film that makes you think that awards seasons is right around the corner and a film that definitely deserves a mention.