Friday, December 30, 2016


Life-sized human dilemmas fuel poignant Manchester by the Sea

We think of the movies as a medium of action and image. So it's kind of audacious that most of the drama is internal in Manchester by the Sea. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan brings his playwright's instincts to this intimate story of love, loss, and family in a close-knit fishing community on the Massachusetts coast.

These rugged folks don't articulate their feelings, but those feelings run deep, and Lonergan finds continually inventive ways to express them in this quietly moving film.   

Lonergan is best known for You Can Count On Me, another look at uneasy, but fierce family dynamics. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), the taciturn protagonist in Manchester by the Sea has no means of expressing his inner demons, not even to himself.

But Lonergan tells his story through judicious use of flashbacks, and in the ways he interacts with people around him, whether fighting, swearing, or joking around. (Indeed, for a movie whose plot turns on so many tragic elements, the dialogue can be surprisingly funny.)

Affleck and Hedges: new reality
Lee works as handyman and super at a small apartment building outside of Boston. He doesn't say much beyond what the job requires, and reacts with the same apparent indifference, whether he overhears a tenant telling her girlfriend on the phone she has a crush on him, or a tenant cusses him out over a plumbing malfunction.

But when his older brother, Joe, dies suddenly, Lee has to return to his home town of Manchester by the Sea, on Cape Ann. Joe (Kyle Chandler, in flashbacks) was a divorced commercial fisherman raising a son, Patrick, on his own.

Casey Affleck: stuck in Purgatory
Although the brothers were close, nothing breaks through Lee's tight-lipped impassivity — until he hears that Joe has named him the legal guardian of 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

As Lee and Patrick cope, Lee's memories play an ever more crucial role in the storytelling. The story of how Lee got stuck in his own haunted purgatory is revealed in small, heartbreaking increments, in counterpoint to the larger story of Lee and Patrick learning to navigate their strange new reality.

Affleck offers up shading in the smallest of gestures. His scenes with Hedges give the film its backbone. Michelle Williams provides fire and grace in her few scenes.

This is a life-sized story about recognizably human characters whose dilemmas stay with us.

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