MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan pulled off the affecting, real-life drama film with 2000's You Can Count on Me, a testament to the power of a well-told story and magnificent performances (those of Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, in that film's case). With his newest outing, familial relationship drama Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan once again pieces together awards-worthy performances and raw storytelling to deliver what can easily be called a masterpiece.
Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, tasked with returning to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to see to his older brother's things, and son, after his untimely death. Joe, his older brother, played by Kyle Chandler, unwittingly left guardianship of his teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), to Lee, sparking an adventure through real-life pain, being an adult, and facing one's own past.
The chemistry between Affleck and Hedges catapults the seriousness of the situation into very real, uncomfortable territory. Hedges' Patrick is your normal, seemingly unaffected, teenage boy. The night after finding out his dad passed away, Patrick would rather live it up with his closest friends than quietly meditate on the sudden change. Lee, in a similar way, is so taken aback by this new responsibility, and the fear of having to face his own demons in regards to why he left the town to begin with, that he overtly places himself in a sort-of solitude, away from any for of grievances or natural sadness.
Ebbing and flowing in ways that will resonate with anyone who's lost someone close, the structure of Manchester, supported by Lonergan's beautifully poetic script, draws out in a fashion that can only be described as "slice of life." Because performances alone are so quiet and reserved, they are even that more powerful, especially with Affleck (bound to win the Academy Award) and Hedges (deserving of, at least, a nomination, if not the Supporting Actor award). Michelle Williams shows up in a small, but vital, supporting performance. One scene in particular could solidify her as an Oscar contender, as well.
When Patrick finally allows himself to have a breakdown over the loss of his father and the uncertainty of the next chapter in life, it isn't a pitiful, patronizing tool of the director to get you to "feel" something. Instead, it's honest and poignant beyond anything else we've seen this year.
There's a certain amount of brevity in the relative sadness of Manchester. It causes you to dissect your own stability in a way that isn't so heavy and deep, but instead refreshing and enlightening. You'll leave feeling emotionally drained, but full of life.
Manchester may get overshadowed by other, bigger films this year, and there are so many facets to it to truly delve too far in without spoiling the melancholic experience you deserve to feel from watching it. It's performances are among the year's best. It's beautiful to look at. This is the realest film of the year.
Runtime: 137 minutes