Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) 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 Joe’s (Kyle Chandler) heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16 year old nephew named Patrick (Lucas Hedges). 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.
This week of big films continues with Manchester by the Sea. It hasn’t gotten to me until now but it was definitely worth the wait. It’s hard sometimes to avoid what you keep hearing people say good things about a film that you haven’t yet seen such as Casey Affleck being the Best Actor frontrunner among others but after seeing it, all those good things were justified.
Lee Chandler is a loner handyman living in Boston but when his brother Joe suddenly passes away, he is forced to step and up and go back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to take care of his young nephew Patrick. Once he returns, Lee is reminded of his troubled past that he left behind, including his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and his three children.
The film tells the story of Lee, Joe, and Patrick in a series of flashbacks starting with Patrick at a young age. The three were very close, often going on fishing trips together. After losing his children in a freak accident, leading to an attempted suicide, Lee and Randi divorced. Since then, Lee became detached and dejected from everyone around him but despite that, his brother was still there for him.
Being so disconnected from society, Lee had no idea how to act. He was not used to all the attention he was getting as people were giving him their condolences for his brother. He looked a little lost but he was still respectful. His brother was there for him when he needed it but since he lost his brother, he now has to be there for Patrick. Unfortunately, he knew even less about how to take care of a teenager. He had to quickly learn and also make arrangements for his brother’s funeral and for his and Patrick’s life.
The best part of the film has to be the relationship between Lee and Patrick. Patrick was a teen who liked to play sports, was in a band, and had two girlfriends. He was perhaps taking advantage of Lee early on as he was still trying to figure things out but over time, they started to bond. He didn’t know much so Lee would let Patrick get away with just about anything. He was designated his guardian since Joe didn’t trust Patrick’s estranged mother Elise (Gretchen Mol).
Lee had to stay around longer than he expected because they had to wait until the ground wasn’t frozen before they can bury his brother. Because of this, they had to keep Joe’s body in a freezer until then. This did not sit well with Patrick, causing him to have panic attacks. Lee originally wanted to take him back to Boston but changed his mind as he saw how much his hometown meant to him seeing that his whole life was there.
Not only did he have to contend with Patrick, he also had to contend with Randi who wanted back in Lee’s life. She has made a life for herself since the divorce but she greatly regretted how her and Lee’s relationship ended. She said things to him which she shouldn’t have and wanted to make it up to him. Lee has sadly moved on from her.
This was a beautiful film to look at with great cinematography, featuring wide shots of the Massachusetts landscape. It also helped in telling the story as it framed characters nicely. A lot of the dialogue involving Lee was shot from far away, indicating how distant he was. The music nicely accentuated the dramatic scenes.
The performances were nuanced and restrained. There was lots of dialogue and quieter moments, forcing us to focus on what was said just as much as what wasn’t. Casey Affleck has received tons of buzz for this role and he deserves it. Affleck was the most restrained in more of a strong silent type kind of role. He might not say much but what he didn’t say spoke volumes. Lee is broken down and in pain, still hurt from what happened before. He mostly keeps it to himself but the feelings still came out on occasion. His chemistry with Hedges made them incredibly fun to watch together. Hedges was excellent as Patrick, depicting his grief, having no one left, and forced to take care of himself. Williams was also good in her short screen time, with one scene in particular, later on in the firm, where she is bound to earn nominations of her own. For some reason, Matthew Broderick was here as well and stood out for the wrong reasons.
Overall, this was a film about real people dealing with their own grief and pain, featuring amazing performances by Affleck, Hedges, and Williams
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