I was so afraid that Manchester By The Sea was going to be one of those immensely depressing films that would cause me to undergo a mid-life crisis in my 20’s…but surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad!
So, was it any good?The story centres around Lee Chandler, a down on his luck man who is depressed as fuck, and gets a mean streak when drunk. He’s played impeccably by Casey Affleck, who in my opinion is a well-deserved contender in the 2017 Oscars race. The call-to-action occurs when Lee is forced to take care of his brother’s son after a sudden death in the family. Conflicted over what he desires – which is a simple existence in the suburbs – and his duty – which is his love for his nephew – Lee embarks on a journey of self-discovery.The film is mostly in linear order but has a variety of flashbacks scattered throughout to paint a more holistic picture of our protagonist. We discover some dark truths to Lee and why he’s become the way he is. There are scenes of intense emotional trauma in these flashbacks that would be ruined by an over the top performance. But Casey Affleck emotes so subtly and heart-wrenchingly, that it gives these scenes the room to breathe and affects the audience without banging us over the head with it. I’ve learned through filmmaking that it is better to show less emotion on screen than what the audience is feeling. If the audience is feeling nothing but the actor on screen is in hysterics, it can easily isolate us. Affleck certainly doesn’t isolate us.The cinematography in the film is ok and doesn’t scream “INNOVATION”, but the screenplay is to die for. It is structured almost perfectly and in some crazy way, it makes us care about this low life, violent man. The relationships between Lee and the people around him are crafted intricately to show a subtle growth in himself and how he fits in the world. His nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, does a great job as Lee’s sidekick. And Michelle Williams as always displays a vulnerability that immediately sucks the audience into her painful world. There is a particular scene towards the end of the film that is just pure gold between Williams and Affleck.This film definitely requires patience and is a slow character study on one man and how much pain he can endure. But by the end, it leaves you with insight into the human condition and what it means to be alive in this cruel, cruel world. Sorry if that sounded emo!
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is out now!