Movie review: Manchester by the Sea

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan had the same roles in one of my favorite films of the past 20 years, You Can Count On Me.

Manchester by the Sea is a very good movie, but the story is sad, though not unrelentingly so. Occasionally, it’s even mildly funny.

Lee Chandler (the excellent Casey Affleck) is a maintenance man in the Boston area, working on four apartment buildings with difficult tenants. He gets word that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is having trouble with his heart, again, and Lee rushes up to the hospital to see him. Too late.

Much to his surprise, Lee finds out that his older brother has made him the sole guardian of Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). He’s required to return to the title locale to care for his 16-year-old nephew. In doing so, ghosts of his past while growing up in the community, especially his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), come to the fore. Lee and Patrick negotiate their relationship without Joe, the common thread.

The saddest part of the film takes place while one of the two most heart-wrenching pieces of music in the entire classical canon is playing.

Grief is a peculiar thing. Often, others want you to “get over it” sooner than you are able to do so, and that is, for me, the underlying theme of the film. When the movie ended, a pair of women who were sitting behind us at the Spectrum expressed disappointment that the end wasn’t more tidily happy. I thought it was much like life IS.

The most impressive element of the filmmaking is that the story goes back and forth in time, and I’m almost always aware of when we are in the narrative, no small feat. Kudos to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who had the same roles in one of my favorite films of the past 20 years, You Can Count On Me (2000). The acting was excellent throughout, although Matthew Broderick, in a small role as Patrick’s mom’s finance, always looks like Matthew Broderick to me.

I should note that, according to IMBD, Manchester by the Sea contains at least 125 profanities, with the f-bomb quite popular. The film is a bit more popular with the critics (97% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) than with fans (85% positive). At 135 minutes, it IS a long movie, but the guy in my row who checked his device at least thrice had me wanting to seize it from his hand and smash it to the floor, but I didn’t.

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