By Greg Canzio (Fort Pierce, FL, US)
After its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Festival, Manchester by the Sea had created a lot of buzz. Almost a year later, the film has received a wide release in theaters. Sundance films have this way about them. Great Indie films that are beloved by festival crowds, but slowly lose hype when released to a wider audience. But some films have gone to find great success post-Sundance. Films such as Little Miss Sunshine, Boyhood, and Whiplash have all premiered at Sundance and gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the following year’s Oscars. While that is an incredible feat to accomplish, none of these films have left with the gold. In fact, no film to debut at Sundance has won Best Picture. Manchester by the Sea may change that.
Manchester by the Sea follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a disgruntled handyman living in Boston when he receives news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from heart complications. Lee must not only take care of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), he must face his hometown and the tragedy he left behind.
Manchester by the Sea is a tough and heartbreaking film to watch that requires a box of tissues and an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” attitude. But the film can be as equally funny and sweet. It takes a special kind of talent to create such a delicate project, but with the leadership of Writer-Director Kenneth Lonergan and a perfectly casted group of actors, Manchester by the Sea is one of the year’s best.
At the core of the film is a tale about sadness. Sometimes there is grief you cannot overcome. A mistake that is irreversible. But Manchester by the Sea explores living with grief in a mature and genuine nature. As a viewer, you may be turned off by a film centered around sadness especially when it can be difficult to watch. And yes, Manchester by the Sea features a revelation that is truly heartbreaking, but every adult has gone through hardship. Every adult has suffered a loss. Manchester by the Sea puts very relatable characters up against very realistic tragedies. I felt more accepting of my own personal tragedies knowing that this film exists.
What makes Manchester by the Sea so special is the once in a lifetime performances that work as a glue that holds this beautiful picture together. No other performance in 2016 by a leading male actor has been as great as Casey Affleck PERIOD. Living the shadow of big brother Ben, Affleck has been overlooked much of his career. Not to say his past performances haven’t received critical attention but lacked the widespread recognition he deserved. 2016 has changed that. Lee is a ridged human being yet you feel a great amount of empathy and heartache towards him. Affleck’s ability to perfect this character has resonated with critics and audiences alike. Praise much deserved.
Lucas Hedges delivers a breakout performance as Patrick who struggles with his father’s death and his mother’s departure but has found more stability in his tragedy than Lee. While Lee is Patrick’s legal guardian, Patrick is the more level-headed and forgiving of the two. Their relationship is the centerpiece of the film’s best moments. Ranging from comedic to heart-wrenching the chemistry between Affleck and Hedges is a tour de force. Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams (who plays Lee’s ex-wife) both lack screentime compared to the film’s leads, but their performances are potent and their impact on the film is tremendous.
Lonergan has penned a beautifully emotional script complimented by Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes’ ability to capture a small scale and personal atmosphere. Wintertime in New England is an important aspect of the environment (I’m a native) and Lee Lipes was able to bring to life the icy cold backdrop that works just as much as a character than a setting. Audiences may run into issues with the film’s first 35 to 40 minutes as it can be difficult in connecting with the brooding character that is Lee Chandler. But as soon as his past tragedy is revealed you will begin to see the film in a whole new light. From then on I was emotionally hooked and found personal comfort from the film. While Manchester by the Sea debuted at a showcase for smaller films, it may be deemed “Oscar bait” by some filmgoers. If so, this is Oscar bait at its finest.