We’ve all been there before; we’ve experienced that feeling of handling the loss of a loved one and what happens next. Earlier this year, my grandfather passed away after a hard fought battle with lung cancer. It was a rough time for me, coping with the fact that one of the greatest men in my life had gone on to greener pastures. On the day of the funeral, it was the first time in a while I had expressed feelings other than being upbeat or frustrated; I sat there in a pew and cried. No one can imagine how they will handle tragedy and what comes with it. Manchester by the Sea sums up many of the feelings we encounter when handling grief; it’s a simplistic, moving reminder that we must be able to rely on those around us in order to help us move forward.
Lee Chandler is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy.
Manchester by the Sea might be difficult for some to watch. While nothing bloody or explicit appears on the screen, the story itself will make you feel like the main character, Lee Chandler, has had a black cloud hovering over his head for most of his life. I’m sure many have experienced some of the same difficulties this character. But those who see Manchester by the Sea will not prepared for what transpires over the course of almost two and a half hours. An existing tragedy in the present unfolds into something even more heartbreaking than you could ever imagine. Manchester by the Sea ties in past events that help mold its characters into who they are during the present time of the movie. Director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret) tackles all of the emotion-filled moments that its characters face with sheer honesty and despondency.
Manchester by the Sea features arguably the best ensemble cast of the year, with a few actors that will receive plenty of awards buzz in the coming months. Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) is terrific as the main character, Lee Chandler. While Casey’s character is soft spoken and not much for conversation, we can see the emotions through his facial expressions during this tragic time; you feel as if Lee has had more bad days than good. Casey Affleck has always been in the shadow of his big brother, Ben Affleck. But here, Casey shows us that he’s just as capable a leading actor as his big brother. Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom) is prodigious as Patrick Chandler, the nephew of Lee Chandler who lost his father. Hedges perfectly personifies a 16-year-old’s emotions trying to handle the loss of a loved one, which could force him to be become an adult at any given time. His performance ranges the entire spectrum. While Hedge’s character tries to push forward, he knows what lies ahead is daunting after losing the one constant in his life. The best scenes in Manchester by the Sea are the ones in which we see Affleck and Hedge’s characters butt heads, as they both try to figure out what to do during this tragedy and how they tackle it head-on.
In smaller roles, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) is great as Joe Chandler, Lee Chandler’s brother. His appearance in flashback scenes helps give more backstory to Lee and Patrick, the movie’s two main characters. Hopefully, we will see Chandler in bigger roles in future movies, as he’s shown that he’s more than ready to make the leap from television to the big screen. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) has a very small role as Randi Chandler, Lee Chandler’s ex-wife. But Michelle’s performance in this role is why the Best Supporting Actor awards category exists. In one of the most touching scenes of the year, Williams’ character sorrowfully pours out her entire heart, as we witness something bottled up finally spill out after a long period of time. A scene that will be talked about for months to come, this brief, yet sad, scene will resonate with you because it’s all something we’ve felt before; we’ve all had those moments where the psychological effects take a toll on us and we come to terms with life’s toughest moments.
Director Lonergan also wrote the screenplay for Manchester by the Sea, which is one of the year’s best. While there certainly is plenty of drama in Manchester by the Sea, there are those brief moments of laughter that show us that not everything is so dour when it comes to dealing with family tragedy. When the movie needs a moment of pause from the desolation felt by the lead character, it’s somewhat comical to see him deal with his sixteen-year old nephew and his raging hormones. Manchester by the Sea features more than a handful of beautiful shots of the main character’s hometown on the waterfront. Both on land and at sea, Manchester by the Sea gives us a time and place that shows what every day America feels like. It’s a place where everybody knows what’s happening and they feel the ripple effects, just like the movement of water when it comes into contact with an object.
Manchester by the Sea gives us the photographic realism of handling life’s worst moments and demonstrates that we take for granted most things right around us. We all have experienced pain, sorrow, despair, and loss; and we’ve all had those moments where we rely on others to help bring us together during those times. Sure, those moments bring out the best and worst in us, but the emotions we carry with them define us as who we are. Thanks to a phenomenal cast bringing humanity to the movie’s characters, Manchester by the Sea shows us that despite events that occasionally leave us in shambles, those events are a part of life we must be ready to handle and accept with understanding.