Manchester by the Sea is one of those movies that is confronting and unsettling, yet very rewarding.
At times the tragic story-line ‘hits home’ emotionally, making the movie very difficult to watch. Yet some humorous scenes and great acting ensure there’s also much to appreciate.
Manchester by the Sea tells of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returning to his hometown, Manchester by the Sea, after the death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler).
Even before arriving back home, Lee seems a broken man. He’s working as a janitor/handyman in Boston and his solitary, rather depressing life seems to revolve around dealing with often difficult tenants during the day and picking fights in bars at night.
The death of his brother and his return home causes Lee even more trauma, especially when he discovers Joe has made him sole guardian of his 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
As we learn through a series of flashbacks, Lee used to be a happy-go- lucky family man, married to Randi (Michelle Williams) and was very close to Joe and Patrick. Then a truly devastating event changed his life.
While Lee wants to leave the town as soon as possible, his role as Patrick’s guardian means he either has to stay in Manchester by the Sea or take the teenager to Boston. Patrick has no intention of leaving. The confident teenager has a very full life, which includes dating two girlfriends and playing in a (very bad) rock band.
Patrick’s busy social life, together with his complex relationship with Lee, provides the movie’s most humorous scenes. Lee’s interaction with Randi are the most gut wrenching.
One of the attractions of Manchester by the Sea is its authenticity. Given what Lee had been through, there was no way he could ever escape his anguish. Thus there’s no `happily-ever-after’ ending. At the same time, I didn’t leave the cinema feeling disappointed, as I felt there was some hope for the characters, whose pain I could relate to. And that’s the other main attraction of this movie – the script and acting is such that I felt a connection with the characters. I could relate to Lee’s frustration and anguish, Randi’s sorrow and Patrick’s cockiness and confusion.
It’s easy to see why Manchester by the Sea has been nominated for several Oscar awards, including best movie. Affleck would certainly be a worthy winner for best actor (having already won a Golden Globe award). Williams and Hedges also deserve their nominations for best supporting actors, as does Kenneth Lonergan for his direction and screenplay.
If you’re looking for a feel-good movie then Manchester by the Sea isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a brilliantly acted film which is realistic, powerful and emotionally challenging, then it’s well worth considering.
Manchester by the Sea is screening around Australia from February 2.
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