Everyone loves a good sad movie. But there are two different types: the kind where you feel a weight lifted off your shoulders afterwards, and the kind that makes you dwell on it for hours afterwards, your day clouded grey when you leave the cinema. It didn’t help that when I left the theatre it was raining, but Manchester by the Sea definitely falls into the second category.
After a tragedy in the family, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a man with an even more tragic past, must return to his childhood town to face his demons and look after his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Now, this movie’s not just sad, it’s depressing. It’s heavy with so many kinds of grief and loss, each so different and real, very personal but relatable and universal. Manchester by the Sea is a very intimate viewing experience for those who grew up in a small town; as Lee struggles to separate himself from his past in a place where everybody knows his name and story, he cannot focus on getting through his overwhelming grief in the present. Kenneth Lonergan’s picturesque but bleak direction infuses an unsettling chill into the town of Manchester, and the layer of grief and defeat that settles over Lee stays with the audience long afterwards.
Casey Affleck is understated yet gripping as Lee, bottling his grief and coping not so much in what he does, but what he doesn’t do, for Patrick. His need to separate himself from family and friends and ultimate self-centred decisions are not driven by selfish desire, but fear for his effect on people, and perhaps even self-retribution, and Affleck poignantly captures the quiet, internal struggle of a man who just wants to be left alone. His scene with ex-wife Randi (an intense Michelle Williams) is one of the most emotionally devastating moments of the film, and of any movie this year; the breakdown of their relationship which can never be recovered punches you in the gut and reminds you of the grief people hold in their hearts every day.
Patrick, on the other hand, copes with his grief by being a teenager: carrying on with life as usual, trying to get into his girlfriends’ (yes, plural) pants, and letting his feelings out inexplicably. Lucas Hedges handles his most heartbreaking scenes with such raw emotion that is so unexpected at times, it really catches you off guard just how complex Patrick is, and just how wonderful of an actor Hedges is. This is especially obvious considering Patrick provides most of the comic relief in this film, and Manchester by the Sea really needs it. There are so many great little moments of joy and humour: Patrick’s strained exploitations with his girlfriends, Lee’s awkwardness throughout as he learns to deal with his family again, that wonderful Boston bluntness we’ve come to expect from the Afflecks and even an amusing little cameo from Matthew Broderick, all of which serve to make sure things don’t become to melancholic, and reminding you of the emotional rollercoaster that is losing a loved one.
Manchester by the Sea is, at times, a tough slog, but what makes it worth it is its ability to capture what losing someone feels like: the anger, the vulnerability, the denial, and its lasting effects. Showcasing some exceptional performances and gorgeous but dreary direction that seeps a winter chill into your heart, Manchester by the Sea is a masterclass on what it feels like to be human – and to learn to feel human again.
With Casey Affleck’s recent win at the Oscars for this film, here’s my top five favourite Best Actor Oscar-winning performances:
- Gregory Peck – To Kill a Mockingbird
- Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
- Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
- Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Photos taken from IMDb.com: