Review: ‘Manchester by the Sea’ delivers greatness via its performances Special

Posted Nov 27, 2016 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Manchester by the Sea’ is a genuinely compelling drama, featuring impeccable performances from the exceptionally strong cast with Casey Affleck leading the way.
Casey Affleck stars in  Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck stars in 'Manchester by the Sea'
Mongrel Media
The death of a loved one, even when somewhat expected, is a very difficult experience. On top of all the emotions involved, there are a lot of arrangements to be made, legalities to handle and people to see. If you’re the one that needs to manage all of these things, giving in to grief is not an option. The responsibility can be a blessing and a curse as the need to concentrate on the details can act as a distraction, while the same details can wrench at your heart and bring long buried feelings to the surface. Manchester by the Sea takes place in the wake of a brother and father’s death as his loved ones deal with the particulars of his passing.
Lee Chandlers’s (Casey Affleck) older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), was living on borrowed time. While his death is not a shock to his family and friends, it is still a major blow. Having left the small town of their childhood, Lee returns to handle the funeral and ensure Joe’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), is cared for before he returns to Boston. However, upon returning, Lee is struck by all the demons and unfinished business he left behind, which is compacted by the weight of his brother’s passing and the responsibilities it entails. It turns out coming back was going to be a lot more difficult than he anticipated.
Throughout the narrative, Lee has flashbacks to relevant moments in the recent past that explain what is happening in the present. For example, Joe’s diagnosis is shown shortly after they reveal he’s died. Other memories seem less significant at first, but they eventually fit into a larger picture of why Lee left Manchester in spite of his brother’s health, as well as the many things he loved about living there. It’s incredibly well-structured and flows seamlessly through the past and present, following Lee’s — and to a lesser extent, Patrick’s — journey through the grief of the past, present and future.
Since not a lot is revealed about Joe, it’s easier to see the similarities between Lee and Patrick. They’re both hot-headed and curse often; but they’re also relatively easygoing and have a very vulnerable centre that they shield from the world. Lee seems pretty rough around the edges, but he also cares immensely for his family and is generally likeable… unless you’re in his vicinity when he decides to start a drunken brawl. Patrick is an unbelievably popular kid who is well-liked and has a solid support network of friends – but he’s also still young and isn’t ready for his life to change so suddenly. The dynamic between the two is one you’d expect between a nephew and his favourite/only uncle as the former asks for things as an equal while the latter tries to figure out how to balance the roles of friend and now guardian.
In spite of being more than two hours long, the everyday drama and deep-seated hurt following Joe’s death is more than enough to keep the audience engaged for that length of time. Even Patrick’s mundane social commitments play a part in the greater whole as their places’ in the small seaside town are at the centre of the picture. Affleck does an excellent job portraying this increasingly complex character as he attempts to keep it together on the outside in spite of falling apart on the inside; no one should be surprised when awards recognition starts rolling in for this performance. Not that far removed from his own adolescence, Hedges captures exactly what it’s like for a teen trying to hold onto what he knows while also understanding what he knows will never again be the same. Michelle Williams also has a small role as Lee’s ex-wife, generally appearing as a genuine bundle of emotions neither of them know how to handle.
This is a film that requires exceptional performances and the cast delivers, creating a compelling drama with many twists.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams