Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea is best related to a lazy Sunday afternoon in mid-January: it’s not very pleasant (because it’s cold and gross out, or, this year, it’s raining), but it is enjoyable anyway; it’s soon forgotten into a mass of other lazy Sundays; and it’s best combined with a hot cup of coffee. Manchester by the Sea also isn’t what I would call “pleasant”—it’s a bummer of a movie about a guy, Lee (Casey Affleck), whose brother (Kyle Chandler) passes away, leaving him to care for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). It’s soon forgotten because there is nothing really crazy or remarkable about it (apparently the Academy Awards begs to differ, though)—it’s a slow-moving, understated movie that highlights the grey, overcast Manchester by the Sea locale rather than the beautiful sunny town it becomes in the summer. And it’s best enjoyed with hot coffee because you will need some comfort after spending over two hours watching Affleck roam around and wonder why his brother Ben wasn’t also cast in this movie.
Aside from the fact that the other Affleck brother would have made Manchester by the Sea a sparkling gem of a movie, the film was a good watch and it hits the notes it wanted to. I can appreciate the realism that the movie achieves, and I actually liked how it handled the lifelike pain of a situation like this. This is not Raising Helen (although I do love that movie). This is a gritty view of a man struggling with his past and his present.
There are a few things that the movie fell short on—neither Lee nor Patrick seems to process the death. It’s almost like the movie didn’t want to deal with the sadness of the event that spurred this tale in motion, but rather wanted to focus on the circumstances it created and the drama that occurred before the timeline of the film. Michelle Williams is present as Lee’s ex-wife, but it feels like more of a drop-in role so that they could advertise her being in the movie. She over-acts and is really not necessary to the film; I think another actress could have played her part in a much more understated, subtle way to match the tone of the movie (and someone else probably could have nailed the Boston accent way better than Williams’ butchery).
There’s not a big dramatic story arc, there’s no cliffhangers or surprises in this movie. It’s just a very realistic (and depressing) snapshot into a family north of Boston. The humorous edge is what set the movie apart for me, though—this wasn’t just a completely sad movie. It literally made the audience laugh out loud a few times, and I think it takes a great film to make you laugh through tears.
Stars: 3 out of 5
My experience watching Manchester By The Sea was akin to eating a masterfully cooked souffle and wondering why it is that you preferred that slightly stale Oreo.
I can't point to a single flaw in Manchester By The Sea. There are no false notes in the film, the characters are perfectly drawn, the movie is sad and funny and charming and surprising in equal measure. The dialogue is authentic, the emotional scenes are earned and never exploitative, and Lonnergan's take on grief is nuanced and refreshingly honest.
Yet I felt myself appreciating the movie more than enjoying it, admiring it more than I was enthralled by it. Your mileage with Manchester By The Sea will likely vary depending on your personal history with grief, family, and failure. It didn't quite resonate with me like I had hoped but it is clearly a high-quality film and is worth checking out.
How does it compare to other movies about grief?
Better Than: Rabbit Hole
Worse Than: The Sweet Hereafter