Manchester by the Sea is an ode to the realities of grief. In the aftermath of his brother’s untimely death, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is made custodian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). To fulfil these duties Lee moves back to his former neighbourhood; a step made tumultuous by his tragic past.
There’s no doubt that this film is pretty heavy going but Kenneth Lonergan’s script delivers gleaming moments of humour that allow both Affleck and Hedges to deliver beautifully nuanced performances. Both men plough through their grief in a matter of fact way, without much visible emotion, until Patrick experiences the full weight of the situation and begins to break down. It’s in this moving scene that Hedges shows the extent of his ability and delivers a performance well beyond his years.
If you look at the film as a whole, not a lot happens after the initial death and I left the cinema feeling like it all fell a bit flat. I lost a parent when I was young and although this film did hit me emotionally at points, I thought it would resonate with me more deeply. In hindsight, the fact that it didn’t is a testament to its realism – I’ve become somewhat immune to the notions it depicts: the shock, the confusion, the feeling that life goes on, the guilt that life goes on, the anger, the way you suddenly look back and realise life has re-settled. But it’s all there starkly laid bare on the screen; sometimes not even in the dialogue. A particularly poignant scene between Lee (Affleck) and his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) leaves more unsaid that the characters manage to articulate. It’s a testament to the wholly realistic characters that Lonergan has created that the audience still knows exactly what they wanted to say.
Overall, this film is very subtle in its delivery but ultimately offers a captivating observation of the grieving process. Its realism will be hard to match. I give Manchester by the Sea a rating of 4/5.