Manchester by the Sea

Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman @sopharsogood

Directed by

Kenneth Lonergan


Casey Affleck Kyle Chandler Michelle Williams


Come in, Manchester by the Sea, we’ve been expecting you.


Too much. Just too much.

In Retrospect.

Kenneth Lonergan – builder and destroyer of worlds.

Casey Affleck delivers a career-best performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s stunning meditation on loss.

There is too much going on in Manchester by the Sea and still it is among the best films of this or any year. It is too funny, too tragic, and too full of nods to all manner of movie genres. It is an odd couple buddy movie, a mystery unfolding via flashback, a family melodrama, a naturalistic comedy, an insurmountable tragedy and an elegy for people living with their internal flame extinguished. Miraculously, all these elements are bound together by the brilliantly humane writing of Kenneth Lonergan which is then paired with powerful performances by Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck.

Affleck plays Lee, a stony-faced janitor living alone in the cell-like basement of a Boston apartment block. This set-up follows a contrasting title credit set-up in which Lee jokes merrily with a young boy on a boat while his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), takes the helm. That was then. When, we don’t know. In the present, Lee does the rounds of his building, making repairs and remaining impassive as tenants reveal their entertaining foibles. He is polite and softly-spoken until riled. Outbursts, either verbal or expressed through his fists, are a vital outlet.

Affleck excels at playing men whose intensity is channelled in uncomfortable ways climaxing in tragedy (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Killer Inside Me). What is new this time is restraint. Lee has cultivated a life that’s like he’s trapped within a sensory deprivation tank. Only when his brother’s death prompts a return to the title sequence port town of Manchester is his back story teased out, and so too his particular reason for bowing out of human entanglements.

Enter Patrick (Hedges), the boy from the boat who is now a fatherless teenager. Bereavement aside, Patrick has an enviably full and healthy life: school, friends, hockey team, a band, two girlfriends. His alcoholic mother is AWOL so it falls to Lee to at least temporarily act as guardian. Lonergan, with the help of his committed cast, buries his emotional landmine deep within the sprawl of everyday life.

Each scene brims with self-contained humour and drama, regardless of whether it moves the story along or simply fills in background colour. Moment-by-moment there are absorbing pleasures rooted in Lonergan’s command of dialogue. As in his previous features, 2000’s You Can Count on Me, and 2011’s Margaret, characters communicate with a zinging curtness that would be bruising if not for the compassion extended in small attentive acts.

An hour in and the emotional landmine goes off. It changes everything and nothing. We learn why Lee is no longer with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). The moving nature of this film relates to individual moments rather than a grand arc. Williams has a flair for vulnerability. Affleck has access to such ravages that it makes you wonder about the state of his soul. Hedges is a young master of comic timing. Lonergan catches you in the minutiae of ordinary living, so when the emotion of extraordinary tragedy suddenly erupts, it is stunning.

Published 12 Jan 2017

Tags: Casey Affleck Kenneth Lonergan Michelle Williams Oscars2017


Come in, Manchester by the Sea, we’ve been expecting you.


Too much. Just too much.

In Retrospect.

Kenneth Lonergan – builder and destroyer of worlds.

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