After being stung by the realization that I wasn’t able to see La La Land like I’ve wanted for half the year, I filled my void of needing to see a good movie by treating myself to see Manchester by the Sea which stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges. I didn’t know much about the film beyond it’s astounding amount of awards and recognition at film festivals and it’s chances for Oscars this coming year, but let me tell you that this film feels like an operatic stage play more than a simple family drama. Director and writer, Kenneth Lonergan, has a background as a playwright so I shouldn’t be surprised that brooding drama and interpersonal look into the story’s character’s make for something more than the basic film drama.
It’s like poetry in a tempered motion or like watching snow fall on a winter’s day. Appropriately so, the New England settings bring that idea to life and death with it’s cold environment and even more frigid character backstories. The Shakespearean tragedies of the film are accented with some of the most perfectly timed, biting humor that you need in order to become a pathetic mess of person in your seat. Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman must step up as the guardian of his 16 year old nephew, but it’s throughout the story you understand why it’s not that simple. His brooding character makes him unpredictable in nature the harboring of dark secrets that you can only see for yourself to believe when they decide to show up on screen.
The themes of life and death present unique challenges for the characters and the audience watching them. Never wanting to force you to cry, there are times that you almost wish the film would let you, but it’s like having a parent forcing you to go to a funeral in order to help you realize the significance of life and death. The film won’t coddle you or bring you hot chocolate when you’re feeling sad and there are times you don’t want them too. The extensive look at the family dynamic of Lee (Affleck) and his nephew Patrick, near flawlessly portrayed by Lucas Hedges, can be off-putting at times, but never to a point when you didn’t understand it’s significance. Their on screen chemistry felt like I wasn’t watching a movie, but rather a documentary on the life of a family that has lost so much, but managed to as sturdy as they possibly could before it was too late.
Accompanied by a harmoniously juxtaposing score by Lesley Barber, the film uses music to break the horrors of it’s fictional realities in a way where we can handle it’s dramatic themes without turning into a puddle of tears. When you see the film, you will definitely know what I mean. Even if the film took a page from No Country For Old Men and went scoreless, the film would still keep you as intensely focused on it’s deeply human characters with deeply human flaws and tendencies. This is not just a film about family drama, it is family drama, but through a lens that allows us to see clearly how difficult loss is as well as the guilt that can go with it. It’s a terrifically shot movie with character’s you can’t help, but go on the ride with. If you’re not ready for some darkly funny, almost too realistic human drama, and a film that runs about 2 hours 18 minutes, then skip this one, but if you’re ready to think and feel, this is the film you need to see.