Manchester by the Sea

Drama Jan 14, 2017 No Comments

© 2016 Amazon Studios

Theatrical release poster. © 2016 Amazon Studios

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan | Drama | R | 2h 17m

Our Rating: $5.75

Everyone has that one movie they watch when they’re feeling really sad. You know, the movie you pick when your day really sucks and you feel like the earth swallowing you whole is a kinder fate than your life. So you get a bowl of ice cream (or glass of wine, whatever you fancy), put on your movie, and cry into your ice cream as you watch the characters’ lives unravel on screen.

Suddenly, the credits roll. You’re still depressed, but there’s a new emotion you never thought you would feel again: happy. Why are you happy? Because your life is bad, but it could be worse. A lot worse. (#firstworldproblems)

For me, my go-to movie has been Les Miserables. Most likely, it will always be Les Mis, but if I ever needed a replacement it would be MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. Or it would be if I ever found the desire to re-watch it.

I don’t. I really don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a good movie. It’s not a great movie, but definitely not a bad one. It’s just. So. Damn. Sad. And I get it. People like sad movies. I like sad movies.

I knew walking into the theater it would be sad. The film focuses on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a Boston janitor who returns to Manchester after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies to take care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). (See? Even the plot synopsis is depressing.)

I did not expect the tragedies that played out throughout the movie. Note to Self: never let your guard down when it comes to sad movies. They will become sadder when you do that. The black hole of sadness will envelope you and never release you from its clutches.

Dramatic? Yes. But also true. Try watching this movie and leave the theater without feeling overcome with emotion. I dare you.

What elevates this movie is the actors, at least in my eyes. They tap into the raw emotions of their character’s life. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is presented as a window into someone’s life, covering every moment of Lee’s journey from his mundane job in Boston, to the hospital after Joe’s death, to the town of Manchester where he’s forced to relive his haunting past while planning a funeral and caring for his nephew. Many moments where nothing happened choked me up, simply because of the actors’ portrayal. Their pain was my pain.

Casey Affleck is the true standout. He deserves the praise and award show buzz he’s receiving. I can’t imagine playing this character and having to live through these moments as Lee.

Credit is also due to Michelle Williams. She doesn’t have much screen time, but her scenes pack an emotional punch. Lucas Hedges should get some credit as well. He works well with Affleck and added some much needed levity to balance the dark moments.

There are so many plot heavy movies out there that it was refreshing to see a movie focused on characters. It almost seems like it would work better as a novel, to give the audience more time to spend with the characters.

Maybe that’s the problem: I only had two hours to get a glimpse into Lee’s life. So much time and yet, not nearly enough.

If you’ve seen the film, you know it uses flashbacks to offer snapshots of Lee’s past.

If you haven’t seen the film, you should probably stop reading soon.

The problem with using flashbacks is that I became more interested in Lee’s past than his present. I became more invested in a character that predates the movie. The present story line verges on static. It establishes Lee taking care of Patrick and shows their life together. It’s new, at times it’s uncomfortable, but it’s just as emotional as you’d expected it to be. Father dies. Everyone is upset but tries to hide it. Funeral plans are arranged. Nothing out of the ordinary happens.

Except for the flashbacks.

[read more=”SPOILERS (Duh!) Keep Reading” less=”Read less.”]

You learn that Lee was a father. You learn he had three children. You learn those children died in a house fire. And then you learn it was Lee’s fault. After all that, it tapers off into the present, back to Lee and Patrick and the question of whether or not Lee will become Patrick’s guardian.

Don’t get me wrong: I thought the scenes with Lee and Patrick were great. But I wanted to know more about what happened to Lee after his tragic loss, the lost years between his children’s death and his brother’s death. The flashbacks took a more dominant role and overshadowed the present.[/read]

So in the end: would I pay full price for this movie? Probably not.