It takes place outside Boston. Of course this movie is going to use the f-bomb like a comma. R-rating. I'm not even looking it up. (Edit: I looked it up out of paranoia and was right. R.)
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan
People love crying at movies. Man alive, we just need it as a culture. I don't cry unless it's Christmas because I'm broken inside, but there are movies that simply need to exist to make us cry. Manchester by the Sea is about all the crying. If you don't cry like I don't cry, you just feel awful leaving. That cathartic release is that thing I'm craving and I wish I got it. That's not Manchester's fault. It's mine. This movie hit every button that was needed for sweet release and my dead soul just felt really sad without letting go. Some people consider themselves awesome for not crying. I ridicule myself. IF ONLY THIS TOOK PLACE AT CHRISTMAS!
Perhaps the role of film is to capture real experiences. We live a real moment vicariously. We feel what we feel in reality, but without the consequence of sadness. It's why we're happy that Annie finds Daddy Warbucks. We never want to be the orphan, but we do want to experience the reality of the moment. The first unit of my sophomore English class is about the fact that "fiction" doesn't mean "fake." There is truth in fiction. It's just that this specific story hasn't happened like how we experienced it. There is truth and that's what Manchester is. That's Manchester's greatest gift. I've dealt with death and funerals more than I should by this point. Some people have only experienced death from a grandparent or a removed relative. It is something very different when your direct family deals with death. What Lonergan does with Manchester is provide the sheer misery and annoyance that comes with having to deal with the immediate loss of a close loved one. There is a tedium and a stress that comes with working with funeral homes and lawyers. It is the last thing that you want to do, but it also provides the value of distracting your brain just enough to be responsible. I guess the whole process with funeral homes is symbiotic. It forces you to deal with your emotions later until you are ready. There is something about death that puts you into a different mode. Manchester by the Sea is specific because it activates the audience into triage mode. It's depressing, but not in the way a Hallmark movie is. (I'm sorry I keep attacking the fine people at the Hallmark Channel. They have done nothing to me, yet I wage war against them at every turn.)
Lee Chandler, portrayed by Casey Affleck, is a man who constantly takes an emotional beating. I don't know how to survive as Lee Chandler. I would hate even having to walk a mile in his shoes. While Affleck brings his typical intensity once again, I don't think that it is the largeness of his performance that separates Manchester by the Sea. He once again does what he is good at: drawing attention. People are raving about his performance and it is good, but what is more impressive is the understanding of what this character has gone through. Watching a clip of this movie out of context doesn't really provide an understanding of why this role is important. I'm sure that a clip will be shown at the Academy Awards. (He's gonna get the nomination, guys. People won't shut up about him.) People are going to wonder from that clip why he deserves to win. He kind of does, but not because of the scene performances. It is in the nuanced changes. It is in the fact that he lives the character. Lee Chandler can't do something huge. He can't punch walls. He can't cry in the rain. (He can and does punch people though.) This is about conversations and moments that seem like selfishness. His performance exists in relation to the grand picture. I applaud Lonergan, who not only directed the movie but also wrote it, in naming the movie Manchester by the Sea. The town is his enemy. Everything in this town hurts him. The trailer makes him look like a man child who can't accept responsibility, but his change can't be a light switch moment. That would cheapen everything that he goes through. Nicely done.
While I think Casey Affleck is great in pretty much everything (especially fake Dunkin' Donuts commercials), the real attention should go to Lucas Hedges as Patrick. Geez, he gets everything. Sure, Casey Affleck is going to get most of the attention for this movie, but I think that Hedges has such a great parallel performance and storyline that I can't determine which is more compelling. (Okay, it's Affleck, but that's because he has more to work with. I guess that is something that a story about a kid losing his dad is less traumatic than Affleck's story.) But he's allowed moments of levity that Affleck is not really given a right to explore. Hedges walks a really fine tightrope to maintaining tone while making the story accessible. If it wasn't for Hedges, this would just be a sad story about sad people, like The Lower Depths. (I like sad stories, guys!) But this is a sad story about real people who happen to be sad overall. On top of that, he makes his awful lifestyle appealing. There isn't a moment where Hedges feels like a sick puppy being kicked. He is a real person, warts and all. The warts don't make him evil at any point, but make him someone we know and relate to. We want to save him, sure. But more so, we want him to save himself.
This movie is going to wreck you. I don't even recommend it to everyone. There are people who don't need this in their lives. I guess this movie is dangerous in some ways. But there is nothing wrong with being sad. This is a healthy exploration of what death is and what it isn't. It isn't people breaking down and shattering dishes. It is in the stupidity and boringness of it all. It is about death not coming like a whirlwind, but in selfish moments and the absurdity of the whole situation.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.