This film has certainly been getting a ton of buzz surrounding it. I mean, look at half these comments. “Casey Affleck joins the ranks of giants.” Damn, been waiting for that day. In any case, I’m looking at this movie and I think it’s going to be good. I enjoy heart-felt stories and the story of a man who is conflicted over whether or not he wants to be the legal guardian of his brother’s son is getting me more pumped than I think it should be. But then again, this is something of an adoption story and I’m always emotionally hooked into those.
Let’s take a gander at the screen talent, shall we. Affleck is the less famous younger brother of Ben Affleck, but that hasn’t stopped his star from rising over the years, as he’s been in some great work. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007), GONE BABY GONE (2007), PARANORMAN (2012), and so much more. If he’s as fantastic as the critics say, I think I’m going to like this film just fine. Right beside him are Michelle Williams (CERTAIN WOMEN , OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL , and TV show DAWSON’S CREEK), Kyle Chandler (CAROL , THE WOLF OF WALL STREET , and SUPER 8 ), and Lucas Hedges (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL , LABOR DAY , and MOONRISE KINGDOM ).
Now for behind the scenes. Writing and directing is Kenneth Lonergan, known for MARGARET (2011), YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000), and writing THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2000). Composing the music is Lesley Barber, known for TV show LITTLE BEAR and documentaries and TV movies. Finally, the cinematographer is Jody Lee Lipes, known for TRAINWRECK (2015) and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011).
Overall, super eager for this one. This is my honest opinion of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a broken man. He is divorced from his wife after a horrible tragedy in their shared past. A semi-reformed alcoholic living alone from the rest of his family, he ends up getting a phone call that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Going home to make plans for his burial, he spends time with his sixteen year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Things, however, get complicated when in Joe’s will, it was stated that Lee would be the legal guardian for Patrick. Thing is, Lee isn’t sure if he wants to be Patrick’s guardian. So as he navigates dealing with his grief and consoling Patrick, who is trying to carry on his life as normal, the two begin an emotionally bonding journey.
All those reviews… warranted. This is a beautiful and powerful film.
So let’s talk about the man of the hour, Casey Affleck. He is absolutely fantastic, a freight train of emotional power, perfectly blending asshole with vulnerability. He’s suffered through more than any person should. Once, he was a happy, wise-cracking, good-hearted man with a drinking edge. But as soon as his tragedy happens, he becomes reclusive, quiet, cold, and occasionally, mean-spirited. But you never get the sense that he’s this way for the hell of it. He just wants to be left alone and left to his own devices.
I do have to voice my concern over the high praise Michelle Williams has been getting. Don’t get me wrong, she is wonderful, but compared to the screen time she gets compared to Affleck and Hedges, her role is limited to flashback scenes and a handful of scenes taking place in the present. This is by no means a complaint, it’s just a head-tilt over the quote about her from L.A. Times.
If there’s anyone that I might say deserves a lot of praise would be Lucas Hedges. His character is written a bit differently, as he’s… not very likable when you first meet him. He doesn’t seem to have any real emotional reaction to his father passing. But the more I thought about it, maybe there was more layers than I initially thought. I mean, when you’re a teenager, you’re not quite a developed adult yet. Hormones raging, there’s always something new to take in and it gets to that age where you wouldn’t quite know how to process something the death of your parent. Not to mention, he knew this day would come. The family knew about Joe’s condition, obviously, and have been dealing with it for years. But just because you’re aware of inevitability doesn’t mean you’re ready to deal with it. And grief comes in all shapes and sizes, so who’s to say that Patrick wasn’t in pain. One particular scene that stands out for me is this: earlier in the story, Lee tells Patrick that they have to keep Joe’s body in a “freezer” due to harsh cold in their hometown, making burial a complication. Patrick, for the most part, has taken his father’s death pretty well. But in certain points of the story, he mentions how he doesn’t like the thought of his father in a freezer. This all comes to a head when he’s in his house and opens his freezer and some meat falls out. He naturally tries to put it back, but the meat keeps slipping out. After a couple more attempts, he breaks down. He’s crying and freaking out. I won’t pretend to remember if he mentions for the final time that he hates his father being locked in a freezer (pretty sure he did), but this was something of an emotional breakthrough for Patrick. And not even just him, but for Lee as well. As Patrick is falling apart, Lee is completely flummoxed on what to do. Offering to call his friends and even asking Patrick what he wants him to do. Maybe at this point, even the movie is letting the audience in on the hint that maybe Lee isn’t fit to be his guardian. Not that Lee doesn’t care, but you can obviously tell that he doesn’t understand how to be there for a grieving teenager. Hell, the scene does end with him not giving up on Patrick, but this scene especially is rooted in so much heartbreak and drama, it really makes you feel for both characters and it’s done so simply, yet so powerfully.
It’s pretty difficult to talk about this film. Not because of the well-executed drama, but simply because it’s a complicated story within its own simplicity, if that makes sense and maybe I personally don’t have the mental capabilities of fully putting how to movie is in words. It’s an experience to watch these two characters trying to cope with their mutual loss, finding comfort in each other, their friends, family, all that. It’s a beautiful movie and I think everyone should see it.
My honest rating for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: 5/5