I was pleased that I was suddenly too late to see Collateral Beauty and instead just in time for Manchester-by-the-Sea. I had read good things about this movie and looked forward to the Nova Scotia background.
The storyline is a simple one: When his brother Joe dies, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is forced to take care of his teenage nephew in his hometown, from which he moved away years earlier to escape his demons from a trauma years earlier.
Casey Affleck’s portrayal is very impressive and it’s no wonder that there is a strong early buzz around his performance. He essentially plays two different characters, a man before trauma and a man after. The ‘before’ in flashbacks is simple, a relatively friendly and happy-go-lucky guy who spends a lot of time drinking and cussing with his friends and family, has a close relationship with his nephew, etc. But where he excels is in the quiet desperation of the present-day Lee Chandler. With this character, there are only rare moments of outward emotion. Affleck plays it so that it is painfully clear just how much hurt Lee is keeping inside. I’m certain there’s a Best Actor Oscar nomination coming for this role.
Despite the serious subject matter, there is a surprising warmth that permeates between the estranged uncle and nephew during the film. The film draws upon the timeless themes of recovery and redemption in such a way that the emotion is never overbearing and feels real. This is a film about a man forced to confront his demons, yes, but it is also a film about a dysfunctional family and the ties that bind us to our hometown regardless.
There is a terrific chemistry between Affleck’s Lee and Lucas Hedges, who plays his nephew Patrick. Make no mistake, despite its subject matter this film is often hilarious, with the dialogue between Lee and his nephew providing most of the frequent outbursts of laughter in the theater. Due to his detachment and fear, Lee is fairly useless as a caregiver to Patrick, who in turn pushes his limits as any bright teenager will do, and tries to get away with doing whatever he wants.
Manchester-By-The-Sea is a quiet, simple picture encapsulating real life trauma, guilt, redemption, hope and bonds that make us family no matter what.
I could have done without all the drinking and use of the “F” word. But what I love about this film is how poignant it is in its approach to explaining to us the importance family, community, sacrifice and adjusting to life’s “new normal” after life throws you major curve balls and you’ve lost everything that mattered. I believe every viewer is going to relate to this movie on some level. I recommend it for a quiet afternoon when you have time to ponder this powerful film.