Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is a movie about heartbreak, real, lasting heartbreak, and how, while it may loosen its grip from time to time, it never lets go entirely. Lonergan has extended his perfect record to a third film; Manchester By The Sea is essential viewing, it’s a profoundly human and humane film, perfect in conception and execution.
Casey Affleck continues a string of impressive performances as Lee Chandler, a broken man forced to leave his life of solitude as janitor of a Quincy, Massachusetts apartment building to care for his teenage nephew in the wake of his brother’s death, uprooting himself to move back to hometown, Manchester-By-The-Sea. It’s a simple premise handled with exceeding maturity and complexity. This is not a story of the mismatched Lee and Patrick (Lucas Hedges) heartwarmingly learning to open up and become surrogate father and son, it’s about how they will negotiate a path forward, each with burdens of tragedy and abandonment to bear. Patrick, a sixteen-year-old with a rich social life, naturally wants to stay amongst his hockey team, his band, his friends, and his girlfriends; Lee is desperate to get away from his hometown where the past that haunts him is harder to ignore, due in no small part to the presence of Randi, his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).
Lonergan, a writer and director of tremendous empathy and insight, does not offer any easy solutions for his characters’ problem;, Lee is broken, Patrick is an orphan, neither situation is going to remedy itself overnight, or likely ever. Nor does Lonergan worry that a sense of humor is going to detract from the drama. Manchester By The Sea is a funny movie and the laughs serve the tears, the humor giving the heartbreak more definition. The acting is superb across the boards: Affleck does career-best work (this is likely to be reflected in the pending awards season); Williams, in a true supporting role, is expectedly superb; Hedges is a knockout in a role that should prove his breakout; in a series of flashbacks, Kyle Chandler brings his patented warm masculinity to the part of deceased father-and-brother Joe and the ever underappreciated Gretchen Mol is great as Patrick’s estranged, recovering addict mother.
Every element of Manchester By The Sea works. It’s a perfect movie, intimate and affecting. Despite the brilliance of his two previous films, Kenneth Lonergan has long toiled in obscurity. He deserves better; this should be the film that nets him the credit he is due. Manchester By The Sea is the work of a genuine genius.
Manchester By The Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes
Editor: Jennifer Lame
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol
English / R / 137 min.