The movie Manchester by the Sea won’t only give you a gigantic lump in your throat; it will make you see life just a little more clearly than you did 137 minutes earlier. And that can be an especially good thing during these unsettling times all over the world.
Casey Affleck hauntingly plays Lee Chandler, who returns to the community where he was born and raised when his older brother dies, and is shocked to learn that he is the sole guardian of his 16-year-old nephew. We don’t know much about Lee at this point, except that he’s a loner handyman for an apartment complex in Boston; he’s depressed, and he’s terribly angry. But, as the story unfolds, we learn about the unspeakable tragedy that made him leave Manchester by the Sea, and we struggle along with him as he is forced to face his deeply troubled past and decide where to take his future.
Every single character in the gut-wrenching film, as well as the dialog and storyline, are so unpretentious and realistic that it seems at times to be a documentary. I held my breath when Lee’s nephew Patrick (beautifully played by Lucas Hedges) visited the hospital morgue to see his dad, and cheered him when he was clumsily trying to hook up with a girlfriend before her mother knocked on the bedroom door. I sided with Lee’s wife Randi (played by Michelle Williams), when she confronted his rowdy and drunk friends to get out of the house in the wee hours of the morning. And my heart broke when Randi, this time as Lee’s ex-wife, apologizes to him, saying “I should fuckin’ burn in hell for what I said” (after their tragedy.) In the book of most memorable movie scenes of all time, that one definitely should be on page one.
Manchester by the Sea shows us how wildly different we can each react to crisis, and it is not our job to judge others, whether or not we understand their judgement, (except, of course, as a juror at a trial.)
I’ve loved Michelle Williams in a number of movies (Brokeback Mountain and My Week With Marilyn), but she is exceptional in this one. My highest praise goes to Casey Affleck, who conveys the depth of Lee’s grief so effectively, it is hard to separate him from the character. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times praised Affleck’s “quietly ferocious performance, his willingness to submerge himself into this character to an almost frightening extent.” And Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said the film was “anchored by a quietly volcanic central performance by Casey Affleck, in a breathtaking breakout role he’s long deserved.”
It is often said that it takes sickness for us to appreciate health and death for us to appreciate life. The greatest thing we can accomplish, however, is to be able to completely appreciate the good before the bad befalls us. Manchester by the Sea will help you do that.