After receiving news of the death of his brother, tenement custodian Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) travels to Manchester-by-the-Sea to look after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), unaware that he has been named as his guardian. Uncertain of how to be a parent and still coming to terms with a certain tragic event, he struggles to build some kind of relationship with Patrick and to make adjustments to both of their lives.
The acting in the film is excellent, every cast member delivering genuine, believable performances. Of course, Casey Affleck is at the centre of it all and is excellent in his role of the standoffish, unsmiling Lee. With his soft speech and awkward mannerisms, pretty much spending the entirety of the movie with his hands in his pockets, he conveys so much emotion with his eyes alone and is believable as a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and struggling to accept the new role that he’s been handed, believing himself to simply be “the backup”. In addition, Lucas Hedges is incredibly likable and sympathetic as Lee’s nephew Patrick, confidently holding the film alongside Affleck, the two of them having ideal chemistry. And of course, Michelle Williams is expectedly brilliant; with her impressive Boston accent, she is an effortlessly engaging screen presence and delivers a certain amount of heart and soul to proceedings.
It is a shame though that Kyle Chandler didn’t have more to do, having only perhaps two major scenes. His main scene, where he finds out about his heart condition, is performed brilliantly all round and at this point, I was all set to get emotionally invested, but unfortunately, Chandler is subsequently dotted through the rest of the film and its a shame because I really wanted to see more of him, seeing as how his character was such an important part of the story and I also really appreciated Chandler’s work in Carol and The Wolf of Wall Street.
But hey, at least it’s good to see that Matthew Broderick is still around, even though his involvement in the film seemed like something of a favour from the filmmakers . . .
The film is set in New England and as such, the locations seen in the film are gorgeous. Repeated views of the sea never fail in instilling a certain sense of awe and the snow covered Manchester houses and streets look wonderful. Complementing the images is the string-heavy score by Lesley Barber and it is indeed a perfect fit, similar to the score from Nocturnal Animals in some respects. The classical-sounding pieces, sometimes lovely, sometimes melancholic, give the film a grand, operatic quality and stirs all the right emotions while never being obvious or sappy.
It is admirable that although Manchester by the Sea is a drama and primarily concerns issues of loss, family and adulthood, much of it is also really funny and illicits plenty of smiles and laughs from the audience, especially in those scenes where Patrick and his girlfriend are attempting to “get busy”, but are hindered by constant interruptions from the girl’s mother. The film is slightly unconventional as it doesn’t fit neatly into one particular genre and is a good mix of drama, tragedy and fun.
However, the film is perhaps a bit too long and after a certain point, it starts to tread familiar ground and is uncertain of just when it should end. It is clear that most every scene serves a purpose, it’s just that there are too many of them and the film could have benefited with being trimmed a little bit. I was also a bit put off with its editing style, cutting off scenes rather abruptly.
Also, though this may be my problem entirely, the film switches between the present day and flashbacks to the past but at the start of the film, it is not made clear enough that these are two completely different time periods and as such, it took me a bit of time to properly get my head around just who was who and to figure out all the familial relations, mistakenly thinking that it was his father who had died, his brother currently being in hospital. Again, maybe it’s my problem and that I wasn’t listening properly but maybe, with a tweak to the editing and narrative structure, things would have made more sense!
With perfect performances all round, Manchester by the Sea is beautifully shot with an affecting, engaging, heartfelt story.