Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, C.J. Wilson
An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies. (Source: IMDb)
This is in no way a bad thing, but the trailers for Manchester by the Sea might have suggested that this is a devastating emotional powerhouse of a film, and that wouldn’t be an incorrect evaluation, however the main strength of this film is the way in which it conveys this emotion.
From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is gorgeously melancholic, beautifully understated in its emotional punches, showing restraint in many places, but undoubtedly delivering the emotional blows when they are really needed. In the times where it could’ve veered into over-the-top melodrama, it instead gives a very real and honest portrayal of grief and the toll it takes on the family.
It serves as a surprisingly good companion piece to A Monster Calls, which similarly focuses on the coping mechanisms of a family dealing with the process of grief. However where A Monster Calls has many fantastical elements, Manchester by the Sea is crushingly human, celebrating the mundanity of every day existence.
The pace might be a little slow for some, but it is never dull, and this is largely due to the fantastic performances. Newcomer Lucas Hedges is outstanding, providing a surprisingly warm layer of humour which was much needed, and welcome to break up some of the more devastating moments. Both Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck are quite rightly receiving a lot of awards buzz, and these performances easily justify that. For Williams, she might not have a lot of screen-time, but boy does she do an amazing job every time she is! For Affleck, this is without question his best performance to date. It is measured, understated, never overly “showy” but wracked with powerful, quiet emotion that spends a long time bubbling underneath a hard exterior, and when it is unleashed, it is to devastating effect.
The melancholic and quietly devastating tone of Manchester by the Sea is reflected in the beautiful colour palette; the grey hue that washes over the film proves to be wholly effective, and it really is quite gorgeous to look at in places.
It was easy to adjust to quite quickly, but the non-linear nature of the storyline was a little jarring to start with, particularly as the trailers didn’t really indicate that the story would be told in this way. This has its benefits though as it adds depth and weight to the characters, and means we see a lot more of Kyle Chandler than perhaps you might have been expecting.
I saw this movie and you should too. Manchester by the Sea is really quite (and quietly) brilliant, a naturalistic and blisteringly human story of grief and family dynamics. It is charming, funnier than you might expect but also devastating and heart-warming. It’s sure to be a front-runner for the Oscars, particularly with the performances, so it is well worth checking out!