Manchester by the Sea


                                          A heartfelt and honest film that you won't soon forget.

As the credits started to roll, and the lights went up in the theater after just watching Kenneth Lonergan's new film: (Manchester by the Sea) I overheard a woman in front of me say, as she was putting on her jacket: " Well, that was too real." The funny thing about it to me was that it sounded like a negative comment on the movie; not praise. Apparently, she went to the wrong movie.

I had been looking forward to this film for quite some time for several reasons. There was a significant buzz when this was picked up for distribution by Amazon at Sundance, and all of the early reviews really had me excited to see this movie that was filmed not far from where I grew up and live on the North Shore. It also stars a local boy: (Casey Affleck) who I have always found to be a very interesting actor. I thought he was terrific in his older brother (Ben's) first major directing effort: (Gone Baby Gone) which I think is a great film in its genre, and his tortured portrayl of a vet in smalltown Pennsylvania was riveting in (Out of the Furnace). He is a bit of an odd duck, but I have really loved some of his work. I also can't recall a film in recent years that has received so many similar and positive reviews.This movie has moved people and touched them in many ways. Inevitably though, with such high praise, expectations are many times, met with disappointment.

I was, unlike the woman in front of me, not in the wrong theater and (Manchester by the Sea) is a rich, deep, somber, and unflinching look at the human condition, after terrible events befall this one working class family. It also doesn't play easy with convenient and buttoned up endings, that plague so many a film like this one. Some may not like this, but (Manchester by the Sea) is not that kind of movie. It's not a film about recovery, so much as it's about getting to the next day.

You will know this fairly early on after you meet our main character: Lee Chandler (a brilliant performance by Casey Affleck). Lee is a handyman for several apartment buildings in Quincy, where he goes about his days of shoveling snow, fixing the plumbing, and staring into space as these people bitch at him. It is apparent that Lee is a shell of a person, showing little emotion or even an acknowledgment, outside of the occasional profane outbursts at the pain in the ass tenants, when he can't take any more. He is so oblivious, he doesn't even notice when women hit on him, whether it's the female residents of the apartment, or at the bar he drinks himself into a stupor at night. What he does notice, after he is blitzed, are a couple of men in suits across from him who Lee thinks are eyeballing him. What follows next is another of many fights this man picks.

Intertwined with the present, we see flashbacks of Lee on his big brother: Joe's (the always good, Kyle Chandler) fishing boat, joking with his nephew: Patrick (Lucas Hedges, doing a fine job in a tricky role.) It is clear that Lee, Joe, and Patrick are very close, and they clown around in that typical guy fashion. We also see past moments between Lee and his family. He seemed happy and married to: Randi (Michelle Williams who is unforgettable in her several key scenes) and they have three children whom Lee loves dearly. He is a townie, who parties sometimes late with his brother and buddies, and pisses off Randi for waking the kids, but he is a good guy who seems to be content. We also learn that Joe has a heart condition that could end his life early, and the scene in the hospital room where Joe, Lee, their dad, and Joe's troubled alcoholic wife: Elise (Gretchen Mol) learn about this, is equally sad and funny, as the brothers try to lighten the mood with crude male humor, but Elise will have none of it.Joe could die soon.

One day, while shoveling the walk at one of the apartments, Lee gets the phone call that Joe is in bad shape, and he better get up to Manchester as soon as he can....which he does. Joe dies not before Lee gets there, and is greeted by Lee and Joe's good friend: George (C.J. Wilson, a wonderful and heartfelt performance) in the hospital. It is now up to Lee, to go to Patrick's hockey practice and tell his nephew that his dad, who takes care of him, has died.To further throw a wrench into things, is the fact that Joe, who loved his brother, has appointed Lee as Patrick's guardian, and he has to move back to Manchester to properly take care of him.

This is the setup of (Manchester by the Sea).

What happened to Lee and his family? Why is he living in a one room place, far from home and by himself? How can this man, who can barely hold himself up, take care of his nephew? Why does Lee seem to not even remotely want to spend a second more in his hometown?

As the story starts to peel away the mystery of who Lee was and why he went away from the family he loved, the impact of what has happened, will hit you with some truly devastating scenes; some of which have been referred to may times vaguely in reviews....which they should. The one that stunned me was another: It takes place in a police station where Lee is talking to two police officers, and it is equally shocking and understandable where it goes.

The North Shore setting, in the middle of winter, with the harsh rays of winter sunset blinding at times through the bare trees, add so much to the feeling of this movie. At times, watching this film, you feel like this is happening and not a movie at all. That is such a tribute to (Lonergan's) writing and direction, the crucial and spot on acting, the stark and beautiful cinematography of bitter winter on the North Shore, and the haunting classical score that strongly goes against the tone somewhat, but works nevertheless.

The main part of the film is how Lee and Patrick, who love each other, but can't seem to see eye to eye on much, slowly begin to understand, that they are kind of in the same place. They are two lost souls, looking for some semblance of solid ground, to feel a sense of comfort, that each  of them so desperately needs. As Lee taxies Patrick to one of his several girlfriend's houses, band or hockey practice, or just off to school, he may not be happy, but it is somewhat normal and stable. And as they bicker, Patrick feels in Lee, some comfort, in the dad that he needs. All the while, waiting for spring, so the ground will thaw and they can bury Joe.

This is not a showy film and it takes its time through many scenes that may seem somewhat mundane, but they are crucial. It is not about big moments, rather the smaller ones, like comforting a boy who panics in the middle of the night because his dad is not there and he is scared. It looks hard into who we are, how we live our lives, how we forgive and forget, and then, when we can't, what happens next? If you want an easy clean answer.....go into the other movie. I wish many well-deserved awards for all involved in this unforgettable film.

This is a great movie that you should see.

watch the trailer: