Manchester By the Sea – The film “Manchester by the Sea” has got five Golden Globe Awards, in 3rd place behind “La-la Land” and “Moonlight.” Released in November, let’s point out it’s not a Christmas Story.
Review and recap Manchester By the Sea
Now, so that we can go on and talk about other things, let’s just stipulate that the acting, script, and direction of the Kenneth Lonergan film ‘Manchester-by-the-Sea are worthy of film award nominations. Major characters, minor characters, all fit seamlessly in the picture creating a realistic orbit of characters around the story line. With the exception of Samuel L. Jackson, whose criticism of it was largely incomprehensible, most everyone seems to praise the film, myself included.
The background for this film is Massachusetts, in a fictional Manchester by the Sea. The people of this film have a backdrop behind them and inside them. Their personal histories are close and intertwined, and not all of it is pretty.
Casey Affleck portrays Lee Chandler, a man who lost his family and is unable to reconcile the loss. Michelle Williams plays his aggrieved wife Randi. Lucas Hedges plays the part of Patrick, a dazed young Mercutio, full of piss and vinegar, begrudging the curtain which came down on his life.
The film is shot in a straight-forward way. There are no gimmicks, no lovers rising up in the air while holding hands, no special effects. The things that come out most strongly are character and story and things that might occur in your own neighborhood if you’re unlucky.
The story line is pretty easy to recount. A divorced father (Lee’s brother) raising a teen-age kid dies of heart failure and leaves the boy to the guardianship of his brother.
As you soon see in flashback, Lee is a regular type who likes to drink beer with his rowdy pals, watch TV sports, and play pool in his basement rec room, much to the irritation of his wife who prefers to sleep at 2:00 o’clock in the morning. One night when Lee leaves the house for a beer run, his house burns down and his children die in the flames.
That’s why Lee doesn’t talk much, react much, desire much. That’s why he’s unambitious. That’s why he’s better left alone. The nice thing about the way the Lee character is written and acted is that he’s stuck in a neutral gear, neither cruel nor drippingly sentient.
Regular guy. Maybe he’s a borderline personality disorder, too, but that’s the anger kept down beneath the ice like a temporarily dormant volcano which erupts from time to time.
At the time he inherits his nephew, Lee is an apartment handyman. He’s hardly equipped to deal with teen angst. Something has to be done with the boy and the duty falls to him. What happens next to the anxiety-driven kid is akin to a David Copperfield story stuck in one place, with the hapless benefactor being Lee, the uncle.
Uncle Lee lives in a bunker only it’s a bunker you can’t see. He sends a monotone signal to the world that he’s not available, unless it’s for bar fights he instigates to deal with his emotions. His articulate nephew Patrick is wide open and needy, exploring his options, from girlfriends and estranged mothers to garage bands and hockey. The kid is one great pain in the kazoo, constantly needling, reminding Uncle Lee of his needs.
Which brings us to one of the strongest film elements that you can feel without thinking – that of relationship. No matter what happens, no matter how much Uncle Lee tries to find alternatives to child rearing, the undertow of relationship is strong, narrated in some of the flashbacks, but palpable in every interaction between Patrick and Lee. They have the kind of bond that doesn’t advertise itself but it’s there.
There’s a lot of flashback revealed in segments of then and now. It confused me a little at the start but it’s a quite natural thing for the human mind to live with the past and the future all as one. The editing helps you see it that way.
Owing to Lonergan’s background as a playwright, the film’s dialogue is unexpected, funny, poignant, and barbed. Unsentimental and realistic portrayals draw more audience emotion than overworked clichéd down-at-the-mouth tearjerkers which all end wonderfully, of course!
This one doesn’t end wonderfully. It ends in the middle. Lee finishes the human race just a little above where he started. Lee hasn’t had a whole-hearted transplant of his inescapable history nor his reserved and introverted personality. He hasn’t been rescued by a loving woman. He is stricken speechless when talking to his forgiving ex-wife. He has no love interest at all, an alien concept in much of today’s filmmaking.
But Lee Chandler has done right by young Patrick. He’s stumbled through the process of neo-parenting with a B minus performance but at least he didn’t cut and run. And hey, he’s done that one most important thing to a teenage boy. He’s given him the one vital thing Patrick had with his father – a rock to stand on.
Characters and cast of Manchester By the Sea include:
Lee Chandler – Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Lewis and Clark, Interstellar, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ocean’s Eleven, Good Will Hunting, To Die For)
Joe Chandler – Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty, Bloodline, Carol)
Patrick – Lucas Hedges (Kill the Messenger, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Slap)
Randi Chandler – Michelle Williams (Shutter Island, My Week with Marilyn, The Station Agent, Blue Valentine)
Hockey Coach – Tate Donovan (Damages, Argo, The Man in the High Castle, Elvis and Nixon, Shooter, Good Night and Good Luck)
George – C. J. Wilson (The Intern, The Americans, Demolition, House of Cards)
Elise – Gretchen Mol (Rounders, 3:10 to Yuma, Donnie Brasco, Mozart in the Jungle, Boardwalk Empire)
Sharon – Mary Mallen