Manchester by the Sea (2016)

casey Manchester by the Sea: because sometimes entertainment should make you feel sad.

brooke And sometimes good entertainment is still kind of boring.

casey Harsh words.

brooke I said kind of…

casey Manchester by the Sea follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a Boston janitor with serious emotional detachment issues who one day receives a call notifying him that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. Lee returns to his former hometown to make funeral arrangements, but soon learns that Joe’s will has tasked him with guardianship over his brother’s teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a responsibility Lee seems obviously incapable of handling. Because of the funeral he has to spend at least a week with the kid anyway, which becomes a trial run for whatever might happen next, and meanwhile Lee is forced to deal with other parts of his past he’d rather forget.

brooke The movie shows a lot of the slow, awkward minutia that you have to deal with after a death, but there’s more to it than just that.

casey The narrative is filled with flashbacks that provide context for the film’s present, including scenes from both brothers’ former marriages, Joe’s diagnosis with congenital heart disease, and an affecting and critical scene that explains why Lee is such a broken mess. It is not, suffice to say, a heartwarming tale of redemption and familial bonding, but it is a potent and moving story about people struggling to work through family trauma.

brooke Trauma is right. The only movie I’ve seen in the last year that was more traumatic has been Nocturnal Animals. Casey Affleck also turns in a pretty impressive performance, even though most of it consists of him being sullen and awkward.

casey I think he’s fantastic: there are layers to his aloofness! For example, there are moments where Lee converses with various women who are interested in him for different reason in which Affleck augments his usual diffidence with subtle changes in posture and vocal intonation that convey the character’s increased discomfort. I also liked Patrick’s moody bravado, which is both endearing and irritating, as teenagers tend to be. He’s more emotionally stable than his uncle, but not mature enough to deal with everything that’s happening or the decisions that have been forced on them, which gives their relationship a nice dynamic that never feels fake or manipulative.

brooke Patrick was my favorite and I hope to see Lucas Hedges in many more roles in the future. Michelle Williams also does an incredible (and emotional) job as Lee’s ex-wife Randi. It’s no surprise that Hedges, Affleck, and Williams all picked up Oscar nods. The acting is spot on throughout.
I have to mention the best scene: Lee, Patrick, and Joe’s other close friends are greeting funeral-goers before the service. The sound from the room is cut out; instead classically inspired music plays as the men hug and shake hands with everyone coming in. Every character has so many little movements and interactions, and they don’t need dialogue because it’s obviously the same stuff you’d hear at any funeral. Instead we just see it and soak up the emotion. It’s the kind of scene that you could take completely out of context and anyone would be able to appreciate it.

casey There are a few similar moments where we see conversations from a distance without dialogue. Speaking of the music, a lot of Manchester By the Sea is set to piano sonatas and similar classical tunes, and honestly, I don’t have the kind of critical vocabulary to describe it, but the lighter pieces often act as a counterpoint to many of the moodier moments. Also, despite all the talk of sadness and heaviness the movie is actually funny, thanks largely to a script that allows the combative characters to bounce off each other.

brooke I like that humor is the main coping mechanism the characters (especially Patrick!) use as they deal with Joe’s death.
In my opinion, it’s about 30-45 minutes too long, and I didn’t like the music (other than at the funeral scene), but besides that it’s pretty good. There is a lot to like about it, and humor mixed with heavy themes usually works for me. I think this movie in particular is a thoughtful meditation on grief and how life goes on, with or without, us after death.

casey I’d say Manchester by the Sea is one of the 2016’s better films, if not quite in the very top echelon, but I’d absolutely rewatch it. That’s more than I can say for most very sad family dramas.

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