Manchester by the Sea (2016)

  • Since the majority of the films I watch & post about are over 70 years old, I don’t generally feel the need to include spoiler warnings. This one’s current, though – so if you don’t want major plot points spoiled (please don’t want major plot points spoiled!), you should not be reading this.
  • I loved the way this movie unfolded. It starts out very ho-hum, with Lee (Casey Affleck) going about his daily business in Apartment Janitor World – but when he receives the phone call about his brother and (immediately) begins to drive to Manchester, the movie shifts entirely – but very smoothly – into a new kind of story, full of flashbacks & real personalities & emotion. A movie that relies heavily on flashbacks to tell its tale is tricky to organize – flashback too often, and the current state of the characters becomes difficult to pin down & retain between interludes. Transitions between flashbacks & the “now happening” reality also run the risk of being handled – for lack of a better word – cheesily, in terms of both the way the flashback is visually signified and the way the characters act immediately following the flashback’s conclusion. This film has no problem with either – the flashbacks are well-balanced with reality, and there are no goofily handled transitional moments. All of it plays out perfectly seamlessly.
  • As everyone has already said by now, Casey Affleck was phenomenal in his role. So controlled, so dynamic in tone (quietly reserved when he needed to be, but also startlingly brash in the moments where that was necessary). I mean…wow.
  • Michelle Williams was also (predictably) wonderful, and because of the emotional depth she provided her character in the scenes she was given, it seemed as though she had way more screen time than she actually did. The scene in the street when Randi (Williams) accidentally runs into Lee while strolling her newborn baby is absolutely incredible – Affleck acts it fantastically, but Williams’s performance is the one that sticks with you. It is a breathtakingly heart-wrenching several minutes to watch (and no, that is not an exaggerated description). Jesus. If that scene doesn’t nab her some awards, I don’t know what will.
  • Lucas Hedges as Patrick was solid. Since this was the first & only movie I’ve seen of his, and he’s still a (relative) youngster – I’m more hesitant to dump praise on him, because…what if he’s mostly playing himself? (It’s always hard to tell, without other films as context.) Still – he’s definitely worth a mention & several gold stars, because without his contributions, the Lee/Patrick dynamic (which was marvelous) would’ve probably felt a lot flatter. It’ll be interesting to see where Hedges goes from here!

(Edit: I’ve seen DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007), MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012), & THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014), all of which Hedges was apparently in…but I do not recall his parts in any of them.)

  • To continue our ride on The Praise Bus – the music in this was excellent. The wordless choral singing (a set of words that sounds really goofy, but in the movie, I swear it’s not) fit the scenes it backed perfectly. The tone of those scenes needed to be some combination of isolated, mournful, broken, and yet not altogether hopeless…and that is exactly the tone the music accomplished, in its pairing with the photography. (In addition to everything else, the film was shot beautifully, with these wonderful muted colors that helped give many of the scenes the calmness and the solemnity they required.)

(Sigh. I could go on about this stuff all day.)

  • There were some nice supporting parts for C.J. Wilson (the actor, not the Angel) as Joe Chandler’s boat partner, Kyle Chandler (nice last name there, buddy) as Joe, the recently deceased father, Gretchen Mol as Patrick’s “recovered” alcoholic mother (her character’s name is Elise), and (biggest gasp of the movie!) Matthew Broderick (!) as Elise’s new, “super Christian” husband Jeffrey. Also Heather Burns as the mother of one of Patrick’s girlfriends, and Tate Donovan as Patrick’s hockey coach.
  • Cannot recommend this movie enough. (Although any and all scenes following the reveal of the Fire Bombshell are pretty emotionally rough, and it’s always difficult to send someone into the theater for that sort of thing.) Still – it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.
  • One more thing of note – this reminded me, in terms of what it asked of the actors, of THE MARRYING KIND (1952). Like Judy Holliday & Aldo Ray in THE MARRYING KIND, Affleck & Williams had to convey their characters before & after a hugely traumatic life event (the accidental death of a child/children), while also contending with a non-chronological storyline…which is by no means an easy task. Holliday succeeded phenomenally in portraying the before & after, and Affleck & Williams did the same in this one. Super impressive.
  • Oh, ps: The three picture frames Lee moves with him when he changes living spaces got me good. My nose is getting sniffly just thinking about them. Nailed those details, Kenneth Lonergan. Good for you.
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