Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality – Emily Dickinson
The whole world can become the enemy when you lose what you love – Kristina McMorris
Manchester by the Sea from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan is a tale of loss and how a man and his teen nephew cope with it. “Lee Chandler” (Casey Affleck) grew up in the titular town on Cape Ann in Massachusetts but now lives in Boston and works an unsatisfying job as a janitor/handyman. But his one-room life is turned upside down when his older brother “Joe” (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly and he has to return home.
His intent is to spend no more than a week in Manchester by the Sea but that changes when he learns that Joe made him the guardian of Joe’s son “Patrick” (Lucas Hedges). Patrick is crushed by his father’s death and wants nothing more than to hold on to the existence he knows. Living in Manchester by the Sea, continuing to go out on his father’s boat, playing hockey and juggling his two girlfriends. He refuses to consider moving to Boston with his uncle.
Lee very much wants to find an answer that will allow Patrick to remain where he is, but as the film progresses we see a town that loved Joe, loves Patrick but for the most part wants nothing to do with Lee. We find out early on that Lee has an ex-wife “Randi” (Michelle Williams) but the reasons for their parting and the tragedy that took place is revealed slowly in flashback form. It is also the explanation as to why Lee acts the way he acts and is the way he is. The question is can he find a way to live with his past while helping Patrick build a future.
Casey Affleck, an actor with a sterling resume and one Oscar nomination for acting already is simply outstanding as Lee. He captures the man tortured by something in his past that he simply cannot move on from, as well as the uncle who loved his brother unconditionally and want to fulfill that man’s wishes by caring for Patrick. Lucas Hedges holds his own in every on-screen moment he shares with Affleck. Michelle Williams has a small but pivotal role and she delivers her usual brilliance. Gretchen Mol and the rest of the cast are well-matched to their own small parts and play them well.
The writing is first rate. There is a realism to the dialogue that helps make the characters and their obstacles present in the room. The one criticism to be proffered is that there are times when the music being used to enhance the emotion of the moment overpowers them instead. Lonergan’s weaving of the written with the visual is at its best here, surpassing his prior efforts in Margaret and You Can Count on Me. There is an utter absence of formulaic elements that is refreshing to find in a movie. Manchester by the Sea will be in the mix come awards season.