Review: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is an original movie by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan about a handyman named Lee (played by Casey Affleck), who loses his brother to a heart disease, and then has to step in to care for his nephew. This movie also stars Kyle Chandler as the brother Joe, and Lucas Hedges as the nephew Patrick. Michelle Williams also shows up a few times in a supporting role as Lee’s ex-wife, Randi. This is a movie about people and their lives, so naturally, the characters and performances are the most important part- without these two elements being great, the movie would fail completely. So, did this film work, or is this movie an over-hyped Oscar-bait snooze-fest of a mess?…

The former, that is the answer to that question. This movie works because the characters and performances are so rich, mainly because of Casey Affleck, as well as Lucas Hedges, who was unknown to me until watching this film (even though I’ve seen some films that he has on his IMDb Filmography). The character of Lee would be an easy one to screw up: he is a very damaged, reserved, and emotionally repressed (and depressed) individual, and Affleck brings that to life magnificently. The very first scene drew me in to Lee, and I felt as though I knew him and was able to understand his decisions, reactions, and thoughts, even if I didn’t fully agree with him at all times. As this film is about people, it’s not afraid to show us characters who are far from perfect, yet it’s these imperfections in each and every character that make them so unique and interesting. These characters didn’t feel like characters at all- they felt like regular people. As mentioned, Lucas Hedges also gives an incredible performance, which I was happily surprised with as a lot of times, teenage male actors fall short of believable, but he (as well as the young men in Captain Fantastic, which I watched yesterday, review right here) blew me away. His character was vulnerable and honest, and that’s exactly the performance that he gave.

The way that the story was told on film was genius- I’m not sure how the script was written so I’m not sure whether to compliment the writing, or the editing, but how the syuzhet was organized (in sometimes “off-putting” and jumbled ways) actually did a lot to bring meaning and significance to certain moments in the film, which would not have been as impactful in chronological order. Lonergan achieved this most effectively towards the beginning when Joe dies, and then we see that Lee’s life is so disorganized and impacted by this death because clips are thrown together, at some times what seems to be by accident, but the editing in this way is metaphorical for what Lee feels on the inside, and it’s pure genius. Some scenes felt so raw and real because they were so mundane and drawn out, and I wasn’t even sure why the scenes kept going on- sometimes the conversations we’d be watching would be dull and awkward, and these conversations just place us further and further into the shoes of Lee, who feels absolutely lost after losing family member(s) close to him.

Most of this story is told through flashbacks, and we can see that Lee was not always as damaged as he currently is- he was once lively and happy, and we see his descent throughout the film in these flashbacks, which slowly explain his present state. Michelle Williams’ role is almost exclusively in these scenes, and Kyle Chandler’s role IS exclusively in these scenes, so their roles may be “small” for the present story discourse, but they are as important to the overall movie as they could possibly be (as flashbacks that is). Furthermore, the editing was not the only unpredictable part of the film, as the story very much kept me guessing (incorrectly) until the end. I was unsure about what the characters would do, even though I felt like I knew them all personally as they progressed in/through the story. The writing by Kenneth Lonergan cannot be more applauded here, and the film, although being an emotional drama (sometimes quite emotionally taxing), had quite a few funny moments in which I laughed out loud, with the rest of my theater-going audience. The film was a bit slow at times, though never boring, as some would call “deliberately paced.” The characters drive the story, and they’re extremely convincing thanks to their great performances, and thanks to Lonergan’s writing and directing.

Overall, this movie works because of the characters, and the performances that bring them to live. Casey Affleck as Lee and Lucas Hedges as Patrick stood out to me, and were some of the most memorable aspects of this film. The story, told partly through flashbacks, jumped around in time and kept me guessing at the next move, but was never easy to predict. Watching Lee grow as a character in multiple ways, in the present and the past, was a great experience, and he was so well-written and played that he, along with the rest of them, felt like real people, and I never felt like I was just watching a movie. This film is raw, real, honest and true, and although it won’t be for everybody, it’s definitely one that you should watch when you get the chance. I’m going to give this movie a 9/10, and a green recommendation. What did you think of this film if you’ve seen it? As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

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