Manchester By The Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan is the cinematic expression of the term “Happy Sad” (made popular by John Carney’s delightful Sing Street, also released in 2016). Although the sadness quotient is much higher than the happiness quotient here; yet, there are certain moments that make you burst into laughter and the number of those moments are way more than you expect in a movie like this.
Lonergan has this unique style of storytelling where stories don’t have any particular beginning or ending. He applied this style in his brilliant debut “You can Count on Me” (one of the best and sort of underappreciated human dramas of our time) and sixteen years later, in Manchester By The Sea, he has managed to do the same thing, only better. The result is a very strange kind of non-linear narrative which goes back and forth from start to finish and tells you this engaging, deeply sad tale dipped in a strange kind of humor. You meet this unlikable, somewhat rude guy working as a janitor and keeping it to himself, ignoring the advances of girls in bars and intentionally getting into bar fights. You don’t get to know who this guy really is and what happened to him all at once, but as the story progresses you slowly start to discover his life and get connected to him; and even wish he finds at least a tiny bit of hope in life.
Lonergan has written a fantastic screenplay and helmed the film really well. Jody Lee Lipes’s serene cinematography which extensively uses white and blue color, possibly to suit the movie’s somber nature and Lesley Barber’s haunting orchestral background score have helped him further in the cause. Infusing music instead of dialogues in certain scenes has elevated the movie only higher, which is a masterstroke by Lonergan.
Casey Affleck has always been a terrific actor. But here, he has outdone all his previous works and delivered a performance which might as well go down as one of the greatest ever cinema has ever seen. As the grief-stricken leading man who has lost almost everything that matters to him, he is phenomenal, especially in those scenes where he doesn’t say anything but manages to move you with his facial expressions and empty stares. The way Affleck uses his eyes and facial muscles, in the scene where a lawyer breaks down his elder brother’s will to him and he remembers the night where his relatively happy normal life turned into a tragedy for one careless mistake can alone win him all the awards. This is top-notch acting, that deserves to be lauded and appreciated.
Circling around Affleck, young Lucas Hedges has also given a brilliant, nuanced performance as a confused sixteen-year-old who has just lost his father and facing a different kind of life crisis. The comedy bits of the movie have worked mainly because of Hedges’s earnest performance.
Compared to Affleck and Hedges, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams do not have many scenes but given the kind of actors they are, and thanks to the Lonergan’s character development, they still manage to shine. Williams, as the ex-wife of Affleck’s character, is particularly exceptional in the much talked-about scene, where she breaks down and apologizes to her ex-husband.
Kenneth Lonergan has taken a broken man, a death, a massive tragedy and an adolescent teen and made a soul-crushing movie that wrecks you inside out, and yet it’s filled with ironically funny moments which manage to prevent you from getting the lumps in the throat. This is a very fine, one of the most realistic character study on celluloid. At the upcoming Academy Award, a La La Land or a Moonlight might win the best picture award, given their bigger (and certainly more influential) scale but Manchester By The Sea will always remain an honest film with which people will be able to relate, personally.