Movie Review: ‘Manchester By The Sea’
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges
Plot: A man returns to his home town after his brother passes away to take care of his nephew.
That’s the problem with heartbreak, to you it’s like an atomic bomb and to the world it’s just really cliche, because in the end we all have the same experience.
That is a line from Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies where Olivia Wilde describes her most recent breakup and how horrible she feels about it. Grief, especially over a lost family member, often feels like the exact opposite. The world looks at your like the smoldering wreckage of an attacked city, but you are so desperate to have everyone just move on with their lives and not give you so much attention. That’s sort of the deal with this movie.
Casey Affleck gives another nuanced and soft-spoken performance as Lee Chandler, a man blamed for a personal tragedy and shamed out of town. He never got over that tragic event and seems to just be sleep-walking through life. His balance of anti-social behavior and the occasional angry outburst make for a fairly definitive portrait of depression. After getting word that his big brother has finally succumbed to a heart condition he has lived with for years, Lee is forced to return home, care to the arrangements, and look after his teenage nephew.
Affleck is surrounded by great performances. Michelle Williams is being touted for an award for her deeply moving line readings. Kyle Chandler employs his likable on-screen presence into a lived-in older brother who we never truly get to know yet grieve over anyway. Then there is Lucas Hedges, who some might remember from the last two Wes Anderson flicks. He gives a breakthrough performance as Affleck’s grieving nephew, who exemplifies the quote at the top even more so than Affleck. However, the real star is the man behind the camera, Kenneth Lonergan.
Lonergan’s vision is for those who want to know what people mean when they say a movie is a slice-of-life. The range of emotions are a real rollercoaster, the ups and downs of our everyday lives seamlessly interwoven. The sadness ranges from general mopey-ness to straight up waterworks, either of which is often played against strategically place moments of humor and genuinely awkward social situations that implies a great understanding of human nature. It makes for a more exciting story than its superficial elements would have you think.