Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
The most surpassing thing about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is how funny it is. It is branded as a proper drama, which it is, but the gritty and real humour seeps in at the most amusing times and makes it one of the funniest tragedies I’ve ever seen.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘Manchester’ is tragic with a capital T. And an R, A, G, I, and C for that matter. At first look, the movie is about Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler losing his brother Joe (played by Kyle Chandler) and gaining custody of his nephew Patrick (newcomer Lucas Hedges). However there is an incident before that death even takes place which defines Affleck’s character and prevents him from moving back to his hometown and fully accepting guardianship. The incident is so tragic and profound I almost couldn’t process it as a viewer, much less understand how Affleck’s Lee could go on. Which is the point — he can’t. His inability to comprehend and move past this event defines his relationship with everyone who loves him.
As Lee returns to his hometown the film becomes interspersed with flashbacks to happier times — the two brothers fishing with Patrick, Lee’s banter-filled marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), and even trips to the hospital, as Joe Chandler learns he has a fatal heart condition, are filled with humour and warmth. The present-day scenes are more concerned with the sad side of things as Patrick tries to continue with a normal life after his dad’s death (complete with a band and two girlfriends). Everyone will be talking about Affleck’s tour-de-force performance but it is Hedges who has some of the movie’s sweeter and funnier moments. Your heart breaks every time his uncle tries to pawn him off because he can’t be his guardian. It sounds cruel but again, there’s a reason why Lee can’t care for Patrick, even if it is the time when Patrick needs looking after the most. Williams has probably less than 15 minutes screen time but completely steals the movie with a moving scene on the street with her ex-husband Lee. Affleck is great and I can see him winning an Oscar for his performance — although there are other factors at play here.
Which bring us to Affleck’s sexual assault accusations. While I don’t want it to deter from the movie, which is great, they exist. Even if they are not being talked about as much as say, Nate Parker’s allegations. There are many reasons for this — Nate Parker’s allegations can be considered “more serious” since they actually went to a criminal court while Affleck’s were settled out of court. There’s also the obvious — Parker is a black man with no Hollywood clout. Affleck is a white man with powerful Hollywood allies. I mean, his brother is Batman. Also, they are two completely different movies and in my opinion, ‘Manchester’ is a just a better movie than ‘Birth of A Nation’.
For me, the allegations may be enough to change the conversations for Best Actor, but it should not affect the movie as a whole. This is Kenneth Lonergan’s movie through and through, Affleck is just (superbly) acting in it. But it’s Lonergans dialogue and images of the coldness by the sea (both literal and figurative) that makes the movie what it is. Lonergan has crafted these characters to seem so natural and dynamic that you can watch them do the most mundane things and you will want to be along for the ride.
‘Manchester’ is the movie that makes you weep openly and then laugh out loud; an uplifting drama of the highest degree.