Review: “Manchester by the Sea”
I went into the movie with an open mind. Casey Affleck, playing the lead, is a good actor and I was interested in the concept. The film was realistic with beautiful scenery but while I grasped what the writer and director were attempting, and there were some beautiful moments, I failed to empathize emotionally with the characters. The story is getting great reviews but I didn’t see it myself.
The film is about Lee Chandler, (Casey Affleck) who is working as a janitor/handyman in Boston. He takes care of four buildings and doesn’t associate with anyone he helps. He goes to the bar and drinks alone, getting into fights. One day he gets a call and leaves, heading back to the small town he grew up in. He goes to the hospital at which point you find out his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died and he must take care of his sixteen year old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Along the way, with the use of flashbacks, you find out why he is so unattached to anyone in his life and why he left his hometown to live in the city. He is divorced and you find out more about his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) and his family. He struggles to be attached with anyone, even his nephew and you realize how broken he is by the events of his life. You also see that at one point in time, he had a beautiful bond with his nephew, Patrick. You discover why Patrick’s mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol) is out of the picture. In the end, Lee manages to cobble himself together enough to understand that Patrick has a life in Manchester, friends and interests. Lee must decide if he can manage to stay in Manchester with Patrick or leave, abandoning the young man.
As I mentioned, part of the story is told via flashbacks. These are integral to the viewer’s understanding of the character. The cinematography is gorgeous, showing scenes of the ocean and giving me a real sense of a small town. There is nothing sugar coated or played down in the story. The events surrounding Lee, his brother Joe, and their family are real and are saddening. Casey Affleck’s acting is true to the character and how broken he is, how difficult he finds it to relate with anyone around him. There is a mood throughout this film that is tragic. Both the writing and the acting carry this all the way building to the conclusion.
I loved the flashes of humor, the awkwardness between Lee and his nephew. There is a scene between Lee and the mother of a girl that Patrick is dating that is fraught with tension. The sense of everyone being real, solid characters was there. I liked the sense of everyone struggling to talk to each other in the face of grief and tragedy. And it is an interesting depiction of a man struggling to function in the face of those emotions.
Both my husband and I could not relate to the characters, my husband even more than myself. I had moments where I was engaged by Patrick and his father Joe. I thought Kyle Chandler was the best performance, a subtle and lovely characterization of a strong and gentle man who is the rock for his family. Michelle Williams acted her part deftly and with great emotion. Lucas Hedges as Patrick has an emotionally impactful, wrenching scene dealing with his grief over his father. And while I found Casey Affleck’s performance was at times nuanced, my husband (who battles depression) found it wooden.
In trying to dissect exactly what left me disconnected, I thought perhaps it was the nature of the character himself. Because he begins so removed from everyone around him, I lose any sense of empathy. The flashbacks are a beautiful way to tell his story but by the time I saw the first one, I was already distant from Lee. And while I understood the importance of the flashbacks in conveying the disjointed nature of Lee’s life, they disrupted the story that was taking place in the present, at least for me, and because they jumped around in time, I had trouble following the story.
There was also some lovely music, classical music that under ordinary circumstances, I would have loved. I could name most of the pieces used in the film. That said, I felt the music drowned out the story. Rather than allowing the characters to convey the story, the music is used in place of dialogue and ends up being “Dramatic Music.”
In the end, I can see that this is technically a brilliant piece of writing and the acting conveyed a mood of grimness and tragedy with a sense of love between Lee and Patrick, the familial bonds deepening as the two men grow to understand each other. But somewhere the story and characters lost me and I was left disassociated and grasping for any emotion to feel. I loved Kyle Chandler and I think if you like realistic, dramatic movies with a deep exploration of character and family, you may enjoy this movie and you will definitely like Kyle Chandler’s acting. It is getting rave reviews so for other people this was a win. But I found myself unable to fully enjoy this movie. The movie is slow to build and fails to engage me with the main character, Lee.
Rating: 2.5 stars