Manchester by the Sea (2016): Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

dir. Kenneth Lonergan

written by: Kenneth Lonergan

starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler 


3.75 out of 4 stars

Why do most of us get away from our hometowns?  I just had a conversation with one of the few other out gay men from my hometown about what it’s like to still live in that claustrophobic, small town and, to boot, work in the arts in an area that does not value the arts.  The reasons I escaped and he’s attempting to stay vary greatly, but when set next to the tragedy and consternation involved in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, a return to WV seems pleasant.

In the film, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a Boston based handyman, slogging through piles of snow to appease the yuppy clients in the buildings he manages.  When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, convenient name) passes away from his congenital heart problem, Lee finds that he has legally placed Lee as the caretaker for his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges, outstanding), a boy with whom he helped raise until his own tragedy destroyed his life.  Now managing sudden parenthood, interacting with his long distant ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and the memories he thought he could leave behind.


Following a major breakout at Sundance, writer-director Lonergan has found a resounding success with the touching examination of grief, the importance of family, and the limits of managing the pair.  Precisely written and directed and acted with passion, his third film becomes his most relatable venture, empathetic in delivery and an unraveling beauty. Lonergan hunts through dense confliction for the sake of self and family, and it eases into human nature and memory with uncanny soul.

Casey Affleck grips into Lee’s overwhelming need to handle tragedy and save himself. His is a performance incapable of stepping away from the misery. Lee is delivered up cold, without a fuck to give, bad reputation inescapable, and the venture to unwrap his downfall relates a maelstrom of grief, too lived in to be fake.


Michelle Williams ties his distraught character to a pinnacle that unveil two of their strongest roles. Discussing her role discusses the misery, but every moment she delivers a before and after portrait of the sharp turns in life can deliver. The pair’s final interaction will rip you to shreds.

With the remainder of Lee’s journey focused on his interactions with his semi-orphaned nephew Patrick, and Lucas Hedges unveils an aching son attempting to cope with a long awaited conclusion. His late adolescence is risking being upended during crucial years. His conflict lies at odds with Lee’s security, and Hedges grieves elegantly in moments, facing a long term worry head on. When the next six months may spell an end, insight into the past and fear for the future is grasped painfully in Patrick’s loss.


In one of the most casual scenes, Lee discusses Patrick’s dating life with the twin, curious whether he sleeps with both of his girlfriends, and he refers to his efforts as “basement business,” slang for “he’s working on it.”  This line feels all to appropriate to describe the work as a whole. No matter the progress made during these transitional times, it’s hard to nail down a solid grasp on the events around you. Digging into the grit is the only way to find the core of the issues at hand. Deciphering the results may take some ample work, but in the end, pending all limbs are accounted for and the construction is standing, one can consider the work a success, or at least not a total disaster.



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