Thursday, December 15, 2016

Movie Review #537: "Manchester by the Sea" (2016)

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
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Handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) must return to his hometown of Manchester when his brother suddenly dies of heart failure. He must settle his brother's affairs, which includes becoming the guardian of his brother's teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), all while being faced with even greater tragedies from his past. 

"Manchester by the Sea" is a character-driven drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a very unpleasant handyman living in a single room basement apartment in Boston. When his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler, suddenly dies of heart failure, Lee returns to his hometown for the first time in about a decade to settle his brother's affairs. Upon talking to a lawyer, he is shocked to find out that he was named the guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, with the intention that Lee would move back to Manchester to take care of him.

There are movies that will give audiences a slight emotional response. Then, there's "Manchester by the Sea," which is so clearly written from a place of honesty and truth that there's no way it's not based on a real experience by a real person. This is a movie all about people and relationships. It focuses on the character of Lee, and as the film gets started, we found ourselves unclear why he was acting so abrasively. Lee obviously pushes everyone away from him, even during minor, inconsequential interactions, but as incidents in his past are revealed, we start to understand him and why he is the way he is. He is a guy who has faced many difficult times in life, even prior to losing his brother. He is closed off, in a place of self-imposed exile, and coming back to Manchester has only worsened the never-closing wound.

Anyone who has faced loss in their life and has had to deal with a sea of paperwork, funeral arrangements, numerous phone calls, tons of driving, comparing sob stories, and funeral pleasantries will and can relate to this. "Manchester by the Sea" offers a frank, sincere portrayal of all the stuff that comes along with losing a loved one and handling their affairs. It's brilliantly acted. Casey Affleck gives a masterclass display of nuanced subtlety. Nothing he does ever feels fake or shoehorned in. Lucas Hedges also does an amazing job as the grief-stricken teenager who copes with the loss of his father through distraction and suppression of pain. He is really allowed to shine in one scene in particular involving frozen meat, when all of those emotions come pouring out. We know this feeling all too well. Joining them is Michelle Williams, who is wonderful in just about everything she does, but it is especially apparent here. She is certainly worthy of award consideration here despite her limited screen time.

Sitting here writing this review, I am typing with tears streaming down my face. "Manchester by the Sea" deals with loss in such a profoundly nuanced, intricate way. It says so little and yet so much in the small glances, the tiny things here and there that add to the immense minutiae of death and loss and tragedy that should only be understood through personal experience, but somehow, even if you've never felt the painful sting of grief, you will know what it feels like if you watch this movie, that's how visceral the pain is. This is certainly one of the best films of 2016, even in all its drama. The emotional weight of it has carried into our lives days after seeing it. It has and will draw tears from those who can find a personal connection to the story or even those who simply empathize with Lee and Patrick in their time of need. The acting is brilliant, the direction astounding, the score is haunting, and the writing forthright. We will say this is not the type of movie we could watch over and over again because the subject matter is just too hard for us, but it is absolutely, positively worth your time.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~97%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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