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Manchester by the Sea




Manchester by the Sea (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

12/15/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



 A man just scraping by in life must decide whether he can take on the responsibility of caring for his brother’s son in Manchester by the Sea, a new film from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan who is probably still best-known for his excellent You Can Count On Me from 2000.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a super at four Boston-area buildings in exchange for lousy pay and free rent in a basement apartment. During the work day he is capable but frequently complained about for his general lack of civility. At night, his hobbies appear to be drinking alone and getting in bar fights.
But then he gets a call. His beloved brother Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler) has died after years of managing a heart condition. Lee heads back to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the Massachusetts town they once both lived in, to plan Joe’s funeral and take care of single father Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) until more permanent arrangements are made.
As it turns out, however, Lee was Joe’s permanent arrangement. He named Lee as Patrick’s guardian in his will and planned his finances so that Lee could move to Manchester and see Patrick through to his graduation. Lee wants no such responsibility and Patrick has no interest in moving to Boston and leaving his full life of friends, hockey, a garage band and two girlfriends.
And let’s pause right here to say that this struggle — family trying to do right by family, despite limitations — is both familiar to You Can Count On Me and extremely well-played in this movie. Joe wasn’t perfect, he had difficulties and he was perhaps more optimistic than responsible when he named Lee as Patrick’s guardian. The way the movie shows us, in flashback, these two men’s relationship feels honest and realistic. I also believed the relationship between Lee and Patrick. Lee was, as he explains at one point, only the backup, returning to Manchester whenever Joe needed help. But Patrick is also fiercely determined to keep his life in Manchester and the death of his father has left him as much confused as sad.
Here’s the part where I say SPOILER ALERT. I recommend this movie and if you want to know nothing more about it, just see it and stop reading here.
The reason Lee doesn’t want to move back to Manchester is explained at roughly the same time we find out that Joe’s hope was that he would. The movie does an excellent job showing the effects of what happened, showing how Lee carries what happened with him always. It is seldom directly talked about but it is part of nearly every interaction he has. Affleck perfectly delivers exactly how broken, as a character later calls him, he really is, even in moments of temporary happiness.
Michelle Williams also appears, playing a character from Lee’s past. She has only a few scenes — some flashbacks, and a few in the present day — but she builds a whole person from what she’s given. What’s most interesting perhaps about her character is that we don’t see the one scene we kind of expect as part of her arc. We don’t see it and yet still we’re able to picture it from her reference to it. 
Manchester by the Sea is probably not going to be my pick for a lazy Sunday movie but it is marvelously well-assembled, with a story that balances truly sad and even horrible events with gentleness, rawness and even a bit of humor. Some of the best performances are from supporting characters such as George (C.J. Wilson), a longtime Chandler family friend, and Patrick’s awkward collection of friends and girlfriends. A sad and lovely movie, Manchester by the Sea is well worth seeing, even if just once. A
Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is two hours and 17 minutes long and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios.





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