Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and starring Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Lucas Hedges as his nephew (Patrick), Manchester by the Sea is a story about a man trying to figure out what to do with a teenager left in his care following the sudden but not totally unexpected death of his older brother.
The need for family love and support is a recurring theme in this movie: love for those we are born to and love for those we invite into our lives who become family. Either way, familial relationships are often complicated. Lee is surrounded by people who love and understand him and allow him to be who he is without judgment. He needs them because he doesn’t get that support anywhere else. His people know he is a mess and love him anyway. Lee’s brother loves him so much he fails to fully acknowledge Lee’s limitations. Lee loves his sometimes selfish, self-absorbed teenage nephew, Patrick, so much he is quite permissive with him. Patrick is fully aware of Lee’s shortcomings and loves him just the same.
This movie also deals with the difficulties of letting go of past mistakes and pain. By overcoming these things we attempt to become someone “new” versus being trapped in the past forever and rendered powerless to move forward. As easy as “letting go” and “moving on” sound, it doesn’t always happen so easily. Some of us do not want to let go and others simply cannot. Manchester by the Sea examines the ways we can miss out on life by holding on too tightly to mistakes long gone that cannot be changed. The movie also serves as a public service announcement for early intervention, bereavement counseling and going into therapy when you become cripplingly stuck in the past.
Casey Affleck does a solid acting job portraying a very complex character. Lee has obvious challenges. He has an immature side, anger management issues, impulse control issues and social challenges. If I were writing up a psychological report on him I would note that he sometimes avoids eye contact during conversation, has trouble picking up on social cues and has a flat affect. But he is also smart and capable, at times. Lee may not have book smarts but he relies on other attributes to navigate through the world on his own terms. Affleck strikes just the right balance between making this character feel like a person you might know and turning him into some sort of punch line. He gives a performance worthy of a nomination. I would like to see Lucas Hedges nominated for best supporting actor. He was funny, and about as teenaged as a teenager gets. He was convincing as a brat, a supportive nephew, an aspiring lothario and a typical 16 year old boy. Michelle Williams also did a fine job.
The scenery provided by Massachusetts acted as another character in this movie. There were beautiful shots on the water, of the houses, the roads and oh, the snow!
One thing I didn’t care for was the score of this movie. I will admit, I am not a huge fan and don’t know a lot about opera – but one operatic number just went on far too long for my taste. That was enough with the opera for me; but there was more. And that went on too long. I tolerated the longest song because I understand the significance of it in relation to the scene, but the opera that came afterward was overkill and made the movie drag in my opinion. The guy sitting next to me was holding his head when it started up again. I could tell the music was deliberately picked, I just didn’t think it was a very good fit. One woman’s opinion.
Manchester by the Sea earned 8.0 out of 10 bloops, with higher scores given for the acting. It is a good movie worth watching for the acting and the complex characters. I feel like the more thought I give the story, the more I like it, so this is one time that 8 could get higher upon a second view. (Pffft! Who am I kidding? Second view… Who has time for that?)