Manchester By The Sea  – JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Review
Writer, director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is an extraordinary film. A film about grief has never felt so deeply moving and profound since Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. While The Tree Of Life bases its emotional wallop on incredibly artistic imagery, Lonergan’s film wishes to convey the emotions with a devastating study of human behavior and how people interact with each other. The screenplay clicks back and forth in time with a piercing eye for how people perceive everything in life. Through words that are said and through the words that only evoke silence as the metamorphosis subtly goes under wraps.
Films on grief are pretty common. Since it is such a universal and familiar milieu, churning something out of known grounds is not an easy task. However, thanks to Kenneth Lonergan’s sharp focus, Manchester by the Sea feels so real when it studies through fully conceived characters in desperate and difficult times. There is wit, there is anger and there are splices of a broken man trying to fix himself into place. While being a genuine tearjerker, Manchester by the Sea creates moments of hilarious uproar simultaneously pushing you into a hell of sadness.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor in the Boston suburbs. Where he not only does the cleaning but also helps the residents out when their light bulbs need to be changed or their couch needs to be thrown out or when the snow sets in and needs to be swept off. Lee comes off as a character who isn’t big on communicating with people. We see him avoiding the resident’s small-talk and even ignoring the fact that some of them are sexually aroused by his personality. His evenings are usually spent in his basement apartment which doesn’t have a sense of being there or else, picking up random fights in a nearby bar. We instantly understand that there’s more to him than this supposed doucheness.
The narrative slowly moves forward as Lee discovers that his loving brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away due to his unsure heart condition. Forced to go back home, Lee is left in splits as he gets to know that he has been appointed as the legal guardian of his brother’s son. Lonergan then focuses on the dynamics between Lee and Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and how they take the loss of their brother in their own ways. For Lee, who seems way too calm on the surface, the loss just gushes back old memories which are both cherishable and unsettling. Patrick, on the other hand, is surprisingly calm about it. He seems like a cool kid who juggles his hockey practice, band practice, and two girlfriends together. However, the enigma of the loss just keeps boiling up when he has to face his defenseless, morally crippled – Uncle Lee.
Manchester by the Sea would not have been the same film without the absolutely stunning performances. While we have come to expect things from Michelle Williams, the range of her emotions in a very restricted role just shows how incredibly talented she is. There’s a confrontation scene between her and Lee that just rips your heart out. Lucas Hedges, the young actor who plays the nephew is great. His fixated eye and his receptiveness to scenes show how well he understands what he needs to do. Most of the humor in the film comes from his dilemma to juggle two girlfriends at the same time. However, the film belongs to Casey Affleck who is bombastic as Lee Chandler. His cold, silent face feels robotic but never lifeless. His performance helps us to understand the character a little better. By the end of the film you expect and go through all the trauma, he must be going through and that just makes it one of the best performances you will see all year.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea opens and closes in the sea. Where the characters are seen riding the family boat. While the sea remains unchanged, the boat acts as a metaphor for everything that gets broken, destroyed and tattered soon finds it’s proper place when it’s mended and worked upon. And sometimes, the proper place is the world that gets you better is the world itself, with everything in it. Where every passing minute and memory brings sadness along with a hope that everything can be made better, if not perfect.