A man is forced to face his demons when he becomes his nephew’s legal guardian, following the death of his brother.
Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a grumpy, irritable loner who works as a janitor in a Boston apartment block. When we meet him he is dealing with complaints from tenants with an off-hand and uninterested manner to quietly hilarious effect. This is a man sick of bullshit, sick of dealing with people and sick of life. He then receives the fateful phone call informing him of his brother’s imminent passing and after travelling to Manchester, he shortly learns that he is to be his nephew’s legal guardian. For reasons that become abundantly clear later in the film, Lee is unwilling to stay in Manchester, his childhood home. The ghosts of his past mean that he will never be able to live there. Lee’s nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) isn’t keen on moving to Boston. After all, he’s on the hockey team, he has two girlfriends and all his friends are in Manchester. Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee’s brother, had paid for Patrick’s upkeep and set everything up for Lee to move back to Manchester to look after Patrick.
This premise creates such an interesting internal conflict in Lee, which Affleck plays stunningly. It’s one of the most moving performances I think I’ve ever seen in film. It’s certainly one that I’ve connected to most. His character deals with loss and grief in such an understated yet incredibly moving way. Lee has shut down, he tries not to care anymore and can come across as maybe cold or insensitive but as the film progresses you understand why he is this way. But he’s not an unlikeable character for all of his flaws. The opposite, in fact. He’s so relatable. It’s such a realistic portrayal of grief. Playing Randi, Michelle Williams is equally as brilliant, although she has less to do. There’s one scene in particular the two share which is one of the most raw and real depictions of grief I’ve ever seen. It’s phenomenal.
Lee’s relationship with Patrick is brilliantly written. It’s awkward, funny and moving yet heartbreaking. Hedges is fantastic opposite Affleck and the two have a natural chemistry that really makes the film and gives it charm and warmth. I can see how what I’ve written to this point might make this film sound like an absolute sob-fest but it’s not. It’s sad and moving and shocking but there is a warmth there. This comes mainly from Lee’s ineptitude at being a parent and Patrick’s uncertainty of what his relationship with his uncle is. Again, the humour is found in very real situations and so as a consequence it’s not jarring and it’s blended in perfectly with the larger themes of the film to prevent them from becoming too overwhelming.
Masterfully directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is a film that you feel, rather than watch. You live it. Sure, it’s a story of sorrow and loss but somehow it’s uplifting and you leave more melancholic than depressed, as maybe you’d expect to.
MASTERPIECE. Funny and awkward yet depressing and melancholic, Manchester by the Sea is a stunningly realistic and raw view on grief and loss.