Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manchester by the Sea - Review

Manchester by the Sea

Director Kenneth Lonergan who wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite films about siblings and their midlife relationship in the 2000 acclaimed “You Can Count on Me” (Laura Linney – Mark Ruffalo), once again takes up both his pen and director’s chair to delve back into an obvious comfort zone by telling his latest family oriented themed effort titled “Manchester By The Sea”.

In “Manchester by the Sea”, we find the story opening around a solitary Bostonian named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck).  Lee seems oddly content on the surface with simply being a low paid janitor and laborer at a large apartment complex dealing with an array of problems, complaints and unruly tenants on a daily basis.

Early on in the film Lee gets a phone call that transforms his life compelling him to return to his hometown Manchester immediately; Lee’s beloved older brother has suddenly died. And upon his arrival and in short order Lee is also shocked to learn his deceased brother Joe Chandler has made him the sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly decides to stay in Manchester to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old all the while forcing Lee to deal with a past that he absolutely doesn’t want to revisit that involved his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the entire Manchester community. But bonded by the love for his brother Lee struggles to adjust to his new world back in Manchester, a world he swore he would never visit again.

“Manchester by the Sea” while structurally solemn and tragically quiet is in fact a masterpiece in the simplicity of telling a compelling simple story.  The sequences of events leading up to the films conclusion seem less like a movie and more like a wonderful and richly layered cinematic experience of the unique and unusual bonds that shape and define families. It’s powerful without being loud or boisterous. It’s grand without a single moment of animated action. It’s larger than life without being over the top. But above all it’s a beautifully told story with a lot of genuine heart and pain that always feels real without any dramatic tricks or gimmicks. And while essentially the entire film (with a running time of 2:17) at its core is a serious melancholy drama there are also some delicately funny moments that make you feel warm.

This is phenomenal film making that authentically goes to places that are cruel, heartfelt and filled with absolute pain. But in the midst of human chaos during the loss of a loved one, “Manchester by the Sea” still offers up powerful and purposeful grace about how people in the end still manage to get through unexpected agonies.

“Manchester by the Sea” brilliantly makes the point that if any of us should live a long productive life, that in that long journey for the most part we are in control of its destination with various stages of connecting dots of personal choices that we made which collectively shape and define who we are. We choose a college, we choose a professional line of work, we choose a mate, we choose a house, the town to live in and we choose how many children to have.  And when we make these choices (upon spontaneous reflections) we look back on these decisions in that moment hopefully filled with happiness, filled with love and filled prosperity.

But sometimes an event can choose us. A profound event with profound unintended consequences that can be equally defining to a life’s connected dot journey which can be equally defining and shaping who we are.

No doubt “Manchester” will be nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. So, with that in mind I implore you, I beseech you, I beg you all, please go see this wonderful film. Take the journey to visit these people who live near the sea in the town of Manchester. You won’t be disappointed.

4 Stars

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