Manchester by the Sea: A gutting glimpse of grief and guilt

Often, there are movies that are hyped up to no extent. Call me a hipster nerd but the more that’s done, I find that I enjoy said movie less. But rarely, so very rarely, a film sneaks in and it deserves every bit of the hype and the praise.

Manchester by the Sea is the critically acclaimed film (read: nominated and won multiple Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes among others) written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and Kyle Chandler.

It is produced by Amazon Studios and considering the information about the accolades I just said, you can either take it as injecting much-needed diversity in Hollywood or a very decadent thing, depending on how cynical you are.

This is one excellent movie, so TL;DR: It’s a great watch. So, from this point on, it is spoiler-land. You have been warned.

Manchester by the Sea revolves around Casey Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler. Take a seemingly aloof, rude, and ‘prone to bar brawls’ dude and add a rude awakening in the form of his loss of his brother and we have our movie.

Review:

“Show, don’t tell” is the first bit of advice (YMMV) you get when you say you want to write and honestly, it’s THE adage that most of us writers live by. This film might be the prime example for this statement.

Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler is the walking personification of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Affleck brings a subdued desperation to the character that we pick up at the start but we don’t realize its impact until much later when we learn of the incidents surrounding his infamy in the little town of Manchester by the Sea.

Even the background characters feel authentic and real (who react in incredible yet expected ways to Lee’s infamy). As I implied before, Affleck excels as Lee Chandler, someone with a rough exterior. And Lonergan shines as he brings life to the scenes we see on screen and we are sucked into the atmosphere of the town. I’ve never been there, but after seeing the movie, I think I’d recognize places. And the accent seemed to be a bit grating at the start since I’m so used to hearing the “standard” accents most of the time, but it wasn’t a big deal breaker.

Lucas Hedges brings a certain warmth to his character, Patrick Chandler, whom I quite didn’t connect with, initially. But, past the jock-ish attitude, you will find yet another character that is written with a lot of depth and a character that Hedges does justice to.

A myriad of interconnected threads links our characters and, as the plot slowly unravels and you understand what makes Lee the way he is, you can’t help but feel the punch to your gut. Especially if you’re like me and you judge Lee to be a jerk at the start.

There’s a moment of stellar acting here, courtesy of Michelle Williams. That scene in question caught me off-guard in its honest portrayal of how grief just festers. Emotional outbursts and one of the most truthful representations of guilt and depression make it a heart-wrenching watch. And my words do no justice to this scene. Affleck and Williams both deserve accolades just for this one moment where they let their talents shine.

Manchester trots along at a pace that I wasn’t sure I was okay with, at first. At a healthy 137 minutes, it’s longer than most movies and it feels that way at certain moments. Yet, progression feels organic and there never is a moment that could be taken out. Scenes either build character or the world.

There is a surprise cast member whom I shall not name but must admit was well cast. However, this moment of surprise was broken by the following scene, which further builds Patrick’s character. This scene threw me for a loop again (and if you’re an observant reader, you’ll notice that this movie has managed to do this a lot) since it dealt with something normal in the most normal way possible.

And that’s Manchester’s biggest strength: its fidelity to being as honest as possible in terms of treating grief, depression, and most of all, people. Its treatment of human emotions puts it second in my list of media that deals with people and their lives.

If there is a weakness, it might be the music. It absolutely fits the movie but I couldn’t remember any piece after I’d finished watching the movie. Compare this to a movie like Whiplash or Logan where some of the music just stays with you after the movie has ended.

Nonetheless, Manchester is beautifully shot, well directed, extremely well-acted with an absolutely gutting and realistic view on grief. It ticks all the boxes. The only negatives might be its length and the music but the film uses both to build on the characters and so you get one satisfying yet cathartic film.

Rating: 9/10

Personal Experience: 10/10

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