This is a beautiful film, with a beautiful story that has undramatically crept into Awards season without glamour or spectacle. It’s soaked in grief, presented in an honest fashion that’s heart aching to watch & that’s why you absolutely must not miss it.
The film is written & directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges & Michelle Williams. It follows Lee, a depressed handyman living alone in Boston. His older brother, back in their home town of Manchester, dies after a heart attack & leaves his teenage son Patrick in his guardianship. Lee has had a very traumatic life & his hometown is an ever present reminder of that, & with the loss of his brother he tries his best to manage being responsible for a teenager.
Lee (played by Casey Affleck) has shut himself off from the world. As the film goes on you piece together his story & how he got to choose to live that way, & how grief has coated his whole personality to become a shell of who he once was. Affleck breathes the ever present guilt into the role effortlessly in such a way it’s startling to see him smile in flashback scenes or as himself in real life. This role defines his talents in ways he hadn’t been able to show before & I am beyond impressed.
Patrick is played by BAFTA Rising Star nominee Lucas Hedges. The character is almost like his Uncle Lee in that he too is a little shut off from the world, except only because he chooses to accept & push away his struggles & embrace the wonderful elements of his life.
Kyle Chandler is Joe, Lee’s brother & Patrick’s father. His life hasn’t been easy but he has always protected his son from the troubles that cropped up, & been nothing but support to his younger sibling. Though the story revolves around his death, his character feels ever present. He’s everything you could want in a big brother & I adore Kyle Chandler.
Randi is only a small part to the story but she is vital. Michelle Williams is honestly sensational, & her role brings an emotional outburst that is heartbreaking to experience but relieves enormous pressure from the pent up feelings of other characters.
Casey Affleck & Lucas Hedges have a phenomenal chemistry as uncle & nephew, & Michelle Williams is (for lack of better word) divine. You can’t look away from any of them, as each performance feels so intensely personal.
There’s also a supporting cast of C.J. Wilson as George, Anna Baryshnikov & Kara Hayward as Patrick’s girlfriends (yes, multiple) & a little role from Matthew Broderick – all of which are excellent.
It was raw, it was emotional & it was very very real. To say I enjoyed it isn’t the right word. Brilliant isn’t the right word either. It’s awe inspiring & demanding of your attention; it perfectly portrays that lost sense of self when a tragedy arises, when time doesn’t seem to move & everything’s just sort of happening. It’s the going through the motions of grief & the aftermath of death, however expected or unexpected it is.
It sounds pretentious but it’s just something you experience, & live with in every second of the film. It was incredible.
The storytelling in it is beautiful. It opens with a younger Lee, Joe & Chandler out on their boat on the sea. Everyone is happy & smiling, carefree & laughing; which is then immediately juxtaposed by Lee, living on his own with a rude, isolated & dead personality. It’s shocking that they’re the same character, & Affleck differentiates the two sides to the one man excellently.
The film gradually gives you all the pieces to put the story together, without being obvious. It builds intrigue in it’s subtleties: my favourite example probably being the three frames that Lee takes with him back to Manchester. We only see a tiny glimpse at one of the photos but you immediately know what they are, & it’s so refreshing not to have everything spelt out for you.
The most powerful & moving part of the film comes from flashbacks that Lee experiences whilst sat in the solicitors office after the will reading. The final reveal of his past & why this town haunts him is told with barely any words, just silence against powerful imagery set to music which culminates with an immensely devastating moment. It’s a scene that will stay with me for a very long time.
The other stand out scene for me is the scene that starts with Patrick at the fridge/freezer. It’s absolutely stunningly shot, seemingly normal to start with & gradually building up to hysterics. Anyone who has ever experienced grief, loss or pain can see themselves in that moment where everything hits at once & becomes overwhelming. The feeling just consumes you, the audience, just as it does to Patrick. It’s a stand out performance from Lucas Hedges that inspires absolute awe from the actor.
The cinematography & editing is beautiful. It distances itself from the characters so that it feels like we’re only an observer to the characters’ lives. A lot of the film is set with the backdrop of the sea, yet it never feels repetitive or tiresome. So many shots are filmed from a distance, be it from the sky looking down, from the end of an alleyway or from the corner of a room. It makes you painfully aware of the feeling that you are peeking in on someone else’s very hard, very real story & adds to the emotion so much harder than if it were seen to be told from the perspective of a character.
The whole film is set to a soundtrack of peaceful, powerful classical type music, with occasional appearances of grungy rock from Patrick’s band. The power of the music elevates the agony of the scenes & just makes your heart ache, & does everything to consume you in the feelings that observing such sadness give you.
I cried, but not full on tear jerker cry. It was the kind of silent, tears falling down your face reaction to something so elegantly told.
It’s the kind of filmmaking that I am in love with. It’s an absolute expression of a raw situation, done with now glamour or Hollywood screen over it or anything. It’s real & it’s personal & it feels like it matters, desperately.
I really can’t recommend it enough.
Manchester by the Sea is in cinemas worldwide.