Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Release Date: November 18th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kenneth Lonergan Actors: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Tate Donovan, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol, Mary Mallen, Anna Baryshnikov, Heather Burns, C.J. Wilson
verworked and under-appreciated, apartment complex handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) somberly pushes through each day at his dead-end job in Massachusetts. When he’s notified that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away, Lee heads up to Manchester-by-the-Sea to tend to his relative’s affairs. Once there, he discovers that Joe has willed guardianship of his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) over to him, which forces the reclusive Lee to both relive and re-evaluate his tragic past and begin making plans for his nephew’s future.
The film’s introduction focuses, quite intently, on the minutia of small town routines. And not just slice-of-life activities, like working or relaxing, but depressingly laborious, unglamorous items, such as plumbing or repairing a fan or shoveling snow. In the world of “Manchester by the Sea,” life isn’t just respectably average – it’s painfully middling. For the protagonist, drudging through each day results in zero progress and little impact (save for mild disruptions, such as customer complaints or bar fights).
Things do eventually grow more engaging, though it takes far too long to hit the audience with interactions of weighty significance. By the time the picture begins digging extensively into the different ways in which people allay grief or cope with loss, it’s evident that pacing issues are the greatest detractor for what could have been a very emotional, very human drama. With such attention toward tiny details, small talk or generic commiseration, and patient observations on commonplace events, it’s no wonder that “Manchester by the Sea” relies heavily on abrupt transitions to sequences out of chronological order. A few flashbacks should have been sufficient, especially considering that the current characters are the ones viewers will ultimately care about, but the majority of the film seems to take place in the past, choppily cutting to and from poignant moments that didn’t need to be so disordered to be effective; in fact, some of the heavier revelations are spoiled by their premature reveals. It’s a gimmick so often overused that moviemakers seem to forget that it rarely needs to be employed at all.
Fortunately, the acting is superb, and several confrontational conversations that force characters to react spontaneously are so natural and moving that they elevate the whole project – despite even the unforgivable running time. A number of surprises are undeniably powerful, augmented by choral voices and orchestral melodies, while the camera sort of sits back quietly, refusing to impart too much commentary or persuasion over familial conflicts. In many ways, the plot unfolds without a notable bent on the part of the storytellers; Lee isn’t completely sympathetic and the awkwardness of unexpected parenthood takes ahold of more than one custodian. Even some of the comedy – of which there is an abundance, as if ignorant to the dourness of death and destruction – doesn’t know when not to intrude. On rare occasions, genuine, tear-inducing sentimentality is interrupted by humor – seemingly the only time the tragedies should play out unencumbered, so as to manipulate the audience fully. The great moments are still haunting, however, though they’re buried deep within a numbing amount of extraneous normalcy.
– Mike Massie