Thursday, May 11, 2017

Guest Review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

by Koshcat

I recently watched Manchester by the Sea, which won the award for Best Screenplay, starring Casey Affleck, which he won a Best Actor Academy Award. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan who also wrote Gangs of New York.

The plot is fairly straight forward. (Spoiler Alerts) Lee Chandler (Affleck) has experienced a horrible tragedy losing his family. He is more than depressed and has completely checked out of life. He now works as a janitor for minimum wage and living quarters which is a small, one-room, basement apartment in Boston. The only time he feels anything is when he drinks too much and then picks unnecessary fights with strangers. Prior to this he was life-loving, loved his wife and kids, and spent glorious times with his brother, Joe, and nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), on their fishing boat. Since the tragedy, he has cut off just about everything and everyone from his previous life. The only tether is to his brother, Joe, who won’t allow Lee to totally cut him off.
His brother has been diagnosed with a heart condition where he is occasionally hospitalized and, when that happens, Lee will return to temporarily take care of Patrick. Patrick’s mother is an alcoholic and unreliable as a parent. The movie starts with Lee getting a call that his brother, Joe, is in the hospital with a myocardial infarction. He quickly leaves to see his brother but it takes him about 90 minutes to get from his home to the hospital. Unfortunately, he doesn’t arrive in time and his brother has died. It is now his responsibility to deal with his brother’s estate and discovers that his brother has made him Patrick’s guardian.

When Lee had left town, Patrick was a young boy. Now he is a 16 and firmly entrenched in the Manchester community with multiple friends and activities. His dream is to take over his dad’s boat. Lee has trouble with the responsibility thrust upon him but more importantly he struggles with the pain and memories of his past, told through flashbacks. Patrick refuses to leave Manchester and move to Boston to live with his uncle. Patrick is also in contact with his estranged mother, who has dried out, and arranges a meeting with her. However, it doesn’t go well.
Lee is trying to find a way to stay in Manchester. It was his mistake that led to his children’s death. While many, including his ex-wife and mother of his children, have forgiven him, there are others, including himself, who cannot. In the end, he has found a way to allow Patrick to stay in Manchester. Lee can’t move back but has found a job much closer and is looking for an apartment with an extra bedroom so Patrick can visit. The end shows Lee and Patrick on now his boat fishing much like they did when Patrick was a boy.

I thought this movie was very well written, directed, shot, and acted. It is not an uplifting story but more similar to the movie Ordinary People. While the ending doesn’t have some incredible redemption or uplifting message, it does give just a glimmer of hope. Lee is heart-broken and in pain. Everyone he has loved has either left or been taken from him. He loved Patrick as a son but fears more pain if he allows himself to get too close. Why should he? He will just suffer more pain and it is easier to be numb. Dealing with numb people is very frustrating because you feel like just shaking them really hard with a couple of good slaps to wake them from their stupor. However, it is a very effective defense mechanism. What makes this movie uplifting is Lee is going to try. It isn’t much but it is a sliver of an opening. He tells Patrick that he can’t move back. That is different from won’t. He wants to be there for Patrick but it is too painful. However, he wants to be in Patrick’s life. Initially, Patrick doesn’t understand primarily because he is self-centered teenager but at the end he matures a little and accepts what Lee will give him. More than accepts-he embraces it. This is growth, maturity, and reality. Healing from a tragedy like they have endured is in small steps. And as each small step is met with a positive outcome, it makes it easier to make the next one. Also, if the small step doesn’t work it is small enough that you can try again. Patrick is forced to grow up too fast but has people in his life who want to help and support him. Lee made sure the foundations are in place. Patrick’s wants are egocentric but not unreasonable. Lee cannot take on the responsibility and possible pain of being Patrick’s father. However, he can be his friend and eventually perhaps his uncle again.
Reading reviews on Amazon, people are all over the place on how they felt about the movie. A third thought is was one of the best movies ever and a third thought is was one of the worst. If you liked movies such as Ordinary People, you will like this movie. I do agree with one reviewer who mentioned that you have to have the right frame of mind to watch it. He had watched it twice and hated it the first time. The second time he was more open about the movie and loved it. There have been articles written as to why some people like movies that make them feel sad and it has to do with being compassionate. Movies like these seem to make people feel more compassionate about others around them who are in pain. It is thought that this compassion helps make a stronger sense of society by bringing us closer to one another.

I haven’t seen the other movies where actors were also up for an award, but Casey does a great job going back and forth between the two different lives. Personally, I think Casey is a better actor than his brother and he continues to improve. In addition, he generally favors smaller, more intimate movies rather than big block busters. This may have to do with personality differences between the two brothers. Before Matt Damon went off the deep end, he gave an interesting interview. He stated that after he and Ben became famous, Matt had trouble dealing with the fame. He married a non-celebrity woman and they have 3 children. They tend to keep their private life out of the lime-light. According to Matt, Ben is just the opposite. He thrives in the public eye and doesn’t seem to let negative press about his private life bother him. We may be trying to judge Casey against his brother, which probably isn’t fair to either.

5 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, Thanks for the review! I've been curious about this film but haven't seen it yet. It looked to me like it could be utterly pointless or it could be surprisingly good.

I'm glad to hear you liked it. I will definitely give it a chance.

tryanmax said...

I like Casey Affleck. I'll give this a look.

Koshcat said...

The important point of enjoying this film is getting the right frame of mind. There are people who hate this kind of movie and I can understand it. Who wants to feel sad after a long week at work? While the underlying premise is heartbreaking, it is told with elements of humor. Not laugh-out-loud, fart jokes like humor. Much more subtle. Therefore, Apatow fans will probably hate it.

ScottDS said...

I haven't seen this but it's streaming on Amazon Prime so maybe I'll check it out one day.

It's a shame many people will simply see the poster for this movie, think "Oscar bait!", and ignore it. :-)

Re: Apatow, for those who don't know, while I'm trying to get the freelance graphic design thing going, I spend some of my days working as an extra on TV here in LA. On Friday, I worked on Apatow's Netflix series Love. It was a nice day - they usually are - but I saw Apatow. I was torn: I wanted to tell him how much I don't like his movies... but I also wanted to pitch him a script of my own! :-)

Koshcat said...

Scott-

I say go for it. The worst that might happen is he will take your gentle love story between a cross-dressing rodeo clown and a conservative, topless dancer paying zee's way through college into a fart-joke filled, bodily fluid infested comedy.

Post a Comment