Pain. Loss. Death. These are all things that we endure throughout the duration of our lives. How we deal with each aspect is entirely different from person to person. Some people are able to handle it better than others. Some have a difficult time dealing with the grief and reality of the events that have taken place. Manchester by the Sea is a film that is tackles each of these elements which have been so taxing on its’ central characters and exuberates raw emotion as well as sincerity.
Written and directed by Keith Lonergan, he immediately introduces us to the film’s main character Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). The opening scene take us back and forth between present day and a cherished memory on his brother Joe’s fishing boat along with his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Between this flashback and the present day, it is clear that Lee is a completely different man from who he was on the boat. Back then he seemed like a charismatic uncle compared to the present day quiet, emotionally reserved handyman/janitor in Boston. We get acquainted with Lee as we are taken through his various jobs on a day to day basis.
This includes anything from plumbing, taking out the trash or water leaks of apartment complexes. Right from the get-go, Lee is a very unsociable character in which the way he converses with the tenants. He may know what he is talking about to them but it’s very evident that he has no desire to talk to anyone or care about the work he’s doing. Affleck has been getting all sorts of praise since this debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, so my personal expectations for his performance were very high. Probably too high. But he truly is phenomenal throughout the entire film. He really shines when he is able to fully embrace who his character really is. Characterized by his short facial expressions, body language and monotone delivery of dialogue. Out of the blue, Lee is forced to rush back to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts because of one life changing phone call.
After an hour and a half drive, Lee finally makes it to the hospital but it’s too late. Joe has passed away from a heart condition that has plagued him over the past few years. Lee does his best to control his emotions and not show too much but it’s obvious that he’s devastated. He’s able to recall the first time Joe had an episode and was diagnosed with this heart condition that nagged him with too many hospital visits to count. From here on out Lonergan paces the audience with flashbacks into the past life of Lee when he was a father of three and a husband to his then wife, Randi (Michelle Williams). The flashbacks aren’t obviously the most original storytelling device, but it allows us to go deep in to Lee’s tragic past to fully get us acquainted with who he was and who he has become.
Patrick comes into the picture as the popular high school hockey player that has a close group of friends as well as two girlfriends – of course. After his father’s death and no mother to be found due to her past alcoholism, he is left in the hands of his uncle Lee for an extended period of time. Joe’s will detailed that Lee be his legal guardian until he is of age. Lee doesn’t take the news too well and triggers the key flashback that led to the downward spiral of his life. It’s one of the most heartbreaking sequences of any film this year.
It’s hard to even process the chain of events because no one should ever have to experience what Lee went through as well as the anguish and guilt he has to live with for the rest of his life. Lee and Patrick are left with each other to deal with their losses and overcome their grief together. Lonergan is able to let both of these actors do their part and have it come natural to them. There is actually some light humor infused into their dialogue and relationship which really makes their character arcs much more enjoyable and relatable. Michelle Williams (Randi) doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time but it would be a travesty to not point out her brilliance. One scene in particular towards the end with Lee is Oscar worthy in itself.
Lee Chandler: I don’t understand.
Lawyer: Which part are you having trouble with?
Lee Chandler: Well I can’t be his guardian.
[the lawyer looks with confusion at Lee]
Lee Chandler: I mean I can’t.
Lawyer: Well naturally I assumed Joe had discussed all this with you.
Lee Chandler: No, he didn’t. No.
Lawyer: Uh, I, sorry, I have to say I’m somewhat taken aback.
Lee Chandler: He can’t live with me, I live in one room.
Lawyer: Well, but Joe has provided for Patrick’s upkeep. Food, clothes, et cetera, and the house and the boat are owned outright.
Lee Chandler: I can’t commute from Boston everyday until he turns eighteen.
Lawyer: I think the idea was that you would relocate.
Lee Chandler: Relocate to where, here?
Lawyer: Well if you look, as you can see your brother worked everything out extremely carefully.
Lee Chandler: But he can’t have…
Lee Chandler: He can’t have meant that.
Lee Chandler: I’m just a backup.
Lawyer: Lee, nobody can appreciate what you’ve been through, and if you really feel you can’t take this on, that’s your right.
Patrick: Where are we going, to the orphanage?
Lee Chandler: Shut up. Get in the car.
Patrick: Can’t obey your orders until you unlock the door.
Lee Chandler: Right, we got a lot to do.
Patrick: What about the boat?
Lee Chandler: Let me talk to George about it. There’s no use hanging onto it, no one’s going to use it.
Patrick: I’m going to use it.
Lee Chandler: Not until you’re eighteen.
Patrick: I’m eighteen and I’m going to maintain it.
Lee Chandler: You can’t maintain it by yourself.
Patrick: Why not? It’s my boat now, isn’t it?
Lee Chandler: You’re a minor, you can’t take it out alone, and I’m trustee.
Patrick: What dies trustee mean?
Lee Chandler: I got to maintain it, so I got to keep up the instruction. It means I’m in charge of handling for you until…
Patrick: Does that mean you’re allowed to sell the boat if I don’t want to?
Lee Chandler: Until you turn eighteen. I don’t know. I’ll definitely consider it.
Patrick: No fucking way!
Lee Chandler: You’re so goddamn sure of yourself. There’s no one to run it, you’re sixteen.
Patrick: I get my license this year.
Lee Chandler: It doesn’t matter, you’re still a minor, you can’t run a commercial vessel by yourself. Meanwhile it’s a bit fucking expensive, and I’m the one who’s going to manage it and I’m not going to be here!
Patrick: Who gives a fuck where you are?
Lee Chandler: Patty, I swear to God, I’m going to knock your fucking block off.
Manchester Pedestrian: Great parenting.
Lee Chandler: What? What did you say?
Manchester Pedestrian: I said great parenting.
Lee Chandler: Fuck you! Mind your fucking business, you fucking asshole!
Manchester Pedestrian: That’s beautiful parenting, he’s going to smash you in the face.
Patrick: Hey, hey, hey, hey! Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Manchester Pedestrian: Smash me in the face. Come on, smash me in the face.
Lee Chandler: Do you want me to smash your fucking face, you fucking asshole!
Patrick: It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Manchester Pedestrian: Come on then, asshole. Go ahead.
Patrick: Thank you. It’s okay. Uncle Lee, are you fundamentally unsound?
Manchester Pedestrian: Fucking asshole.
Lee Chandler: Things are a little bit up in the air.
George: No, I can take care of it as far as the general maintenance is concerned, but that motor is going to go at some point.
Patrick: I’m taking care of it.
Lee Chandler: There’s no allotment for a new motor. Unless, George, you know someone who wants to buy it.
Patrick: Wait a second, I’m not selling it.
Lee Chandler: We’re going to be in Boston anyway.
Patrick: What! Since when are we supposed to be in Boston.
Lee Chandler: Just take it easy.
George: Well, whatever you decide it’s going to bleed you dry just sitting here.
Lee Chandler: We don’t know exactly what we’re doing.
George: Well, you know, he can always stay with us if he want to come up weekends.
Lee Chandler: Do you want to be his guardian?
George: Well, we already…
Patrick: He doesn’t want to be my guardian for Christ sakes, he’s got four kids, have you seen his house?
George: We’ve already got a houseful, we’re trying to lose some kids at this point.
Lee Chandler: No, I… We’re trying to look at the logistics, so I didn’t know.
George: We’re jammed in there pretty good, but we’ve always got a sofa for him anytime he wants, you know that.
Patrick: George, George, George! That’s alright. I know. I know that.
George: I mean he’s welcome anytime.
Patrick: I understand. I… I know, thank you.
[to Lee and his friends who are being rowdy as they play table tennis]
Randi Chandler: Hey, you want to keep it down, you fucking morons, my kids is sleeping!
Lee Chandler: I’m so sorry. I mean…
Randi Chandler: Lee, you want to get these fucking pinheads out of my house, please?
Lee Chandler: Yeah, I do. I mean I really do.
[Randi turns to walk back upstairs]
Lee Chandler: She can’t talk to us that way.
[they start laughing and being rowdy again, Randi turns back]
Randi Chandler: Hey, I’m not fucking around!
Randi Chandler: How is he? How’s Joe?
Lee Chandler: He’s fine. You know, he’s alright.
Randi Chandler: And you didn’t run out of beer? I mean you guys did the day okay?
Lee Chandler: Yeah, we were very tempered.
Randi Chandler: I don’t why you guys bother getting on the frigging boat.
Lee Chandler: What do you mean? We love the sea,
Randi Chandler: Oh, yeah? How many beers did you have on the sea?
Lee Chandler: Eight.
Randi Chandler: Eight?
Lee Chandler: Yep. Eight over a seven hour period, which…
Randi Chandler: Wow, I am well impressed.
Lee Chandler: … is 1.1428572 beers an hour.
Randi Chandler: Boy, it’s like you didn’t have anything to drink at all.
Lee Chandler: Yeah, I told you I was cutting down.
Randi Chandler: Oh, God, no. oh, what are you think you’re going to do?
[Lee strips down to his boxers and gets on top of her]
Lee Chandler: I guess I’m going to take a shower.
Lee Chandler: Hello?
Randi: Hello, Lee, I just wanted to call and say I’m sorry. How’s Patrick doing?
Lee Chandler: Well he hasn’t really opened up with me.
Lee Chandler: That’s the same girl that’s over at the house?
Patrick: No, that was Sylvie and this is Sandy, and they don’t know about each other. So please don’t say anything in case it comes up.
Lee Chandler: I won’t. Do you actually have sex with these girls?
Patrick: Well we don’t just play computer games.
Lee Chandler: With both of them?
Patrick: Well with Sandy’s mom here it’s sort of, uh, strictly just like basement business.
Lee Chandler: What does that mean?
Patrick: It means I’m working on it.
Patrick: You don’t want to be my guardian that’s fine with me.
Lee Chandler: Not that, it’s just the logistics.
Lee Chandler: We’re not going to be here that much longer anyway.
Patrick: I’m not moving to Boston, Uncle Lee.
Lee Chandler: I don’t want to talk about that right now.
Patrick: You said he left you money so you could move.
Lee Chandler: Yeah, that doesn’t mean…
Patrick: Anyway, what’s in Boston, you’re a janitor?
Lee Chandler: So what?
Patrick: You could do that anywhere. There’s plenty of toilets and clogged up drains all over town.
Lee Chandler: I don’t want to talk about it.
Patrick: All my friends are here. I’m on the hockey team, I’m on the basketball team. I got to maintain a boat now. I work on George’s boat two days a week, I got two girlfriends and I’m in a band. You’re a janitor in Queensie. What the hell do you care where you live?
Randi: I said a lot of terrible things to you, my heart was broken, but I know yours was broken too.
Lee Chandler: No, you don’t understand, there’s nothing that…
Randi: That’s not true.
Patrick: I think there’s something wrong with me.
Lee Chandler: Do you want me to call your friends? What do you want me to do?
[enters Patrick’s room where he’s sat on his bed crying]
Lee Chandler: I’m not going to bother you, I’m just going to sit here until you calm down.
Patrick: All right, I’m calmer now. Would you please just go away?
Lee Chandler: No.