Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson
It’s an extraordinarily rare gift when a film is so beautifully, so honestly acted. Tragic things may happen – and a heaping lot of tragedy strikes Manchester by the Sea. Yet the film fills us with joy.
We watch damaged humans do silly and honest things. And then we say to ourselves, “Ah, yes, that’s exactly what would happen.”
There’s no doubt that Manchester deserves its Oscar nominations for picture, director, writer, actor, supporting actor, and supporting actress.
That’s the beauty of Kenneth Lonergan’s film. Manchester is the third small drama he’s written and directed, after the charming You Can Count on Me and the flawed by admirable Margaret. Firstly, one can instantly tell; Lonergan is drawn to dinky dramas. Also, he’s quite clearly attracted to careful, intimate acting that hones in on what it’s like to be human.
Lonergan has a gorgeous sense of empathy, especially for damaged souls.
If I haven’t made it clear, make no mistakes; this nor’easter is not a chipper tale. However, it’s one so fantastically told, it filled me with melancholic empathy and, yes, happiness.
Great art can do that, no matter how tragic and small.
Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a sad sack repairman. He lives in a basement in Boston, doing handyman work – some of it illegal. It’s telling that he doesn’t oversee just one building for his unscrupulous “good ol’ boy” boss; he takes care of four.
Then, Lee learns that tragedy had struck his family back in his hometown of Manchester. It’s not surprising, for several reasons. One reason is that bad news seems to follow Lee around.
So, in the dead of a grey Massachusetts winter, poor, angry, and insular Lee must go back to his childhood town. He hates the place, and for good reason. And this repairman is supposed to fix things? Unfortunately, this rage-ad-grief-filled soul is just too ill equipped.
To tell you more of the plot would be to ruin a bit of Manchester’s magnetism.
Affleck is magnificent. First of all, Lonergan knows this and lets the actor’s face, his silences tell so much. Secondly, Affleck’s work shows why acting is difficult, and why it’s an art.
Every other performance is equal to Affleck. Williams will smash you to pieces in her small scene as Lee’s ex-wife. Finally, young Lucas Hedges is both delightful and heart wrenching as Lee’s conflicted nephew.
Together, they are all so wonderful, I wish I could give them each a few more nominations.
Manchester is a dreary place. And yet, even in the gloomiest spots, we can see the light. This is easily one of the best films of the year.
Lonergan loves to write and direct stories about guilt. As much as we all would like to deny it, we’ve all felt it. However, by watching Manchester, we also get to experience two other small treasures – empathy and mercy.
And that’s why we come out of the darkness of the movie theater to joy.