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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Manchester by the Sea Review


Manchester by the Sea

As an auteur, Kenneth Lonergan has shown his eclectic writing chops on such films as Analyze This, Gangs of New York, and You Can Count on Me (Oscar nomination), and even though MbtS is only his third directing stint, his experience as a cross-genre storyteller stands him in good stead in Manchester by the Sea.  The seed of the story came from an idea John Krasinski ran past Matt Damon.  Damon loved it and originally wanted to direct and star, with Lonergan writing the screenplay.  As time passed and schedules clogged, it became Lonergan's baby, with Damon's pal Casey Affleck in the lead.

In this slow burn drama, Lee Chandler (Affleck) has known love, loss, and, mostly, grief. People experiencing grief are supposed to move through stages; suffice to say, on his road to healing, Lee has run into a pile-up of "guilt," "anger," and "depression," beyond which he can't even see.  Lee is a building custodian who rushes back to Manchester when he learns of the sudden death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler).  At the reading of the will, Lee learns Joe has set a stipend aside for Lee to care for his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), but he has to move back to Manchester. For reasons yet to be revealed, Lee cannot bring himself to this, though he does agree to watch over Patrick until other arrangements can be made, a choice Patrick logically interprets as rejection.

The Lee-Patrick relationship becomes the body of MbtS, and it provides the thin rays of humor that stem the oppressive pall cast over the film's mood and gray winter setting.  From Patrick's take on Lee's inability to connect with other people (unless it's a left hook after one or twelve too many beers) though Lee's dismay at Patrick's girlfriend juggling and millennial techno-geeking, they build a grudging bond. If that relationship is the body, the tragedy of Lee's past is the soul, which we learn from glimpses through silent fugues into his past--brother Joe's failing health, Lee's failed marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), and that tragedy.  As Lee looks inward, Patrick reaches out.  He's been in contact with his estranged mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) and has accepted her invitation to meet, over Lee's objections, and a strange afternoon that includes a Matthew Broderick sighting ensues.

Days pass, and it seems that the horrible reminders that Manchester brings are abating.  Lee is growing closer to Patrick and offering hints that his own personal barriers are breaking down.  Then, he and Randi have a chance meeting.  The scene that follows is one of the most powerful and wrenching moments set to film this year.  It is an event so impactful that it is decisive not only to the story, it influences our perception of the film itself as a work of art.

Manchester by the Sea is a justifiably esteemed screenplay, intricately woven to reveal the events that motivate behaviors when we need to know them, toggling back and forth from flashback to present day, yet not allowing us to predict where it is going.  It is said Kenneth Lonergan spent three years on this story--the script was on the 2014 Blacklist--and the cast put in extended time on rehearsals before they began filming.  Casey Affleck's interpretation is a restrained, yet deep performance--his Lee is uncomfortable in his own skin, and he makes everyone around him equally uncomfortable.  Lucas Hedges sells his role as a grief-stricken teen who is still self-centered enough to go on with his normal life.  Michelle Williams is excellent, as always, and her scene on the street with Affleck bursts with raw emotion.  Having said that, at a 2:17 runtime, Lonergan translates the page to screen about 17 minutes too leisurely, and the wintry emotional tone is a shade too dark.

8 out of 10

Guy S. Malone, Researcher

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