“All my friends are here…I got two girlfriends and I’m in a band. You’re a janitor in Queensie. What the hell do you care where you live?”
This question, asked in the preview of Manchester by the Sea, all the but sums up what this movie is about. After Lee Chandler loses his brother to a fatal heart attack, he has to decide on a difficult choice regarding the guardianship of his nephew: Should he move back to his hometown where he must endure painful memories from his past, or uproot his nephew to a new location?
There are movies that make you sad, that make you depressed, that make you want to cry, and then there are movies like this, that seem like their only goal is to break you. WOW, I mean, this gets the feel bad movie of the the year award by far. But having said that, it features some of the best acting, especially from Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, realistic dialogue, and natural character development of any film I’ve seen this year.
As we see Lee’s life unfold, both in present day and flashbacks, we see just how he becomes the broken man we follow throughout most of the movie, the revelation is gut wrenching and allows us to fully understand his character and the pain he endures daily. Casey Affleck plays this amazingly, every second he’s onscreen he shows just how detached and broken this character is, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. Lucas Hedges also does a great job playing Lee’s nephew, Patrick, as he deals with the grief of losing his father and the frustration of putting up with his current situation. For the most part, he manages to turn the typically selfish, angsty teenage role into something unique and endearing with subtlety and charm. But the real stand out here is Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife. She may not have a lot of screen time here, but what she manages to pack in the time she has is so raw and gut-wrenching that she steals the show in just one scene.
The downside of this movie is that even though the acting is tremendous and the interactions between the characters are genuine, it just feels way too long. It may be that the depressing nature of the movie slows it down or the fact that there is no real story structure (it’s just a few months spent watching these characters) either way, it makes this two-hour movie feel stretched to three. Usually, that’s not a bad thing, but even though there are some amazing dramatic moments, there just aren’t enough to keep the pace running smoothly and it bogs itself down.
So on the whole, this is a solid entry into the Oscar race, and despite its depressing nature, the writing and acting are incredible and shouldn’t be missed.It may drag on too long, but the characters are easy to invest in and root for, even if you feel like you’ll break down in tears at any moment.