February 19, 2017

IM Film Review: Manchester by the Sea

manchesterbythesea_trailer

IM Film Review: Manchester by the Sea

Writer-director [Kenneth] Lonergan, best known for 2000’s Oscar-nominated “You Can Count on Me” and the more recent “Margaret,” has a phenomenal ear for intimate, authentic dialogue, for how people really talk, not how movies think they do.

• Kenneth Turan, LA Times

• • •

MBTS_3869.CR2I have heard several film critics and interviewers remark upon Kenneth Lonergan’s ability to capture genuine human speech in his films.

In his latest, the devastating Manchester by the Sea, its characters, led by Casey Affleck, speak and interact with each other with thoroughly authentic dialogue. Many of these conversations are genuinely funny and true to life, especially those between Lee and his nephew, played by a remarkable Lucas Hedges. As a viewer, I had no sense that I was watching a movie. It felt like I was observing an actual life story unfolding before me.

Of course, what that entails is a movie full of mundane conversations. Most of the words, in the final analysis, as in everyday life, don’t add up to much in the way of profundity or insight.

What really matters in Manchester by the Sea is silence. Ubiquitous spaces between the words generate the powerful punch in the gut this movie brings. The film is full of silence. The silences of an empty, grieving man who doesn’t know what to say in social settings. The awkward silences of those trying to relate to him. Excruciating silences of guilt and blame. Lonely silences that explode suddenly in arguments and bar fights. In the conversations and events we witness in this story, there are both thin crevices and expansive canyons of silence.

At times this verbal silence is accompanied by expressive classical music — pulsing, passionate works of Handel and Albinoni in particular — that pull the curtain back on the inner landscapes of grief haunting these people. Especially Affleck, who goes all in in this role, disappearing into a man marked by stunned, ineludible grief. Life has pummeled him into silence.

The film’s pervasive silence gives the few revelatory words its characters speak a power that moved me to tears on several occasions.

The story is relatively simple. Lee Chandler, a janitor in Boston, gets the news that his brother Joe, a fisherman in Manchester by the Sea, has died. As Lee takes care of the post mortem affairs, the attorney informs him that Joe made arrangements for Lee to take care of his teenage son Patrick if he should die. The film is built upon the structure of this transition and the decisions Lee must make.

As the narrative unfolds during the days and months after Joe’s death through events and flashbacks, we come to realize the layers of sadness, disappointment, and grief that make this situation unbearable for Lee and others in the family and community. In particular, we learn of one past tragedy that changed and colored everything, weighing down Lee and everyone else in relentless and merciless ways.

Manchester by the Sea puts a true-to-life human face on the Bible’s statement that all creation is “groaning.” In this case, it’s a groaning too deep for words.

Highly recommended.

Kenneth Turan says it well:

At home with deep, almost operatic emotions and willing to join them to that persistent strain of unmistakable humor, “Manchester by the Sea” reaffirms Lonergan’s position as one of our most daring and perceptive writer-directors, determined to confront large questions about the pain life causes and the degree to which it is survivable, if it is survivable at all. You can’t ask more from a filmmaker, or a film, than that.

• Kenneth Turan, LA Times

• • •

manchester_by_the_seaManchester by the Sea (2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams,
Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges

Comments

  1. seneca griggs says:

    A truly “adult” film? I’m gonna see it.

  2. I’ve been wanting to see this. Now, I want to see it even more!

  3. I used to work in a boat yard in Manchester, and got to know a few of the local fishermen. It’ll be interesting to see the movie, but I think I’ll be too distracted trying to compare it with reality.

    As for “authentic dialogue,” we’ll see. Accents from Maine and Massachusetts are pretty hard to imitate.

    But I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Just a couple of points. I think most of the main actors are New Englanders, but I’ll be interested to get your take on the accents. Second, if anyone is offended by cursing and vulgar language, be prepared to cringe quite a bit. I imagine that is pretty true to life in boatyard culture.

  4. –> “Manchester by the Sea puts a true-to-life human face on the Bible’s statement that all creation is ‘groaning.’ In this case, it’s a groaning too deep for words.”

    Wow. I’m not sure I want to see such a thing, and yet knowing we live with groaning all around us, it would probably do me good to experience that, get a sense of how to be compassionate toward those who are in the midst of groaning.

    Thanks for the review, CM.

  5. I am looking forward to seeing this movie, from this review and others. We have a movie club that meets in our house (and is considered a “small group” by our church). Most of the movies that watch are these deep and slow films from abroad. Most of them failed in the U.S. despite winning many film festivals from around the world. We have become a people of shallowness, sound bites, special effects and (in the case of a few) simple solutions to pain. I am glad that this movie is mainstream and will probably do well. It is incredibly healthy to observe pain in its raw form as it keeps us human and less likely to deny the pain around us. Thanks for the review.

  6. Good movie. I was struck by the “ordinariness” of the dialogue and events in the movie in the midst of such heavy subject matter. Just like real life.

    • Christiane says:

      it isn’t easy to pull this off: the juxtaposition of the ‘ordinary’ with the profundity of grief …… and the use of ‘silence’ as a part of the dialogue is interesting

      I’m looking forward to seeing this

  7. Burro [Mule] says:

    Just finished a movie this morning that is the polar opposite of Manchester By The Sea. Where Lonegan’s film is realistic, The Boy and The Beast is fantastic, Japanese animation, but on a level with Spirited Away, Perfect Blue, or Akira, which is to say, it is at the top of its genre.

    I’ll be on the lookout for the other film as well, although there is enough groaning in my life that I feel no need to import any. I’ll probably have to wait until it hits Netflix or I can see it on DVD.

    • –> “Just finished a movie this morning that is the polar opposite of Manchester By The Sea.”

      I was going to post how much I want to see “La La Land,” which I assume will be the polar opposite of Manchester by the Sea, too.

  8. Excellent review Mike. You may have missed your calling. It’s now a must see for me.

  9. If you all haven’t seen the movie Calvary, I can’t recommend it enough.

    Also The World’s End, for something a little different.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Calvary is probably the best Catholic movie I have ever seen. Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd deliver tour-de-force level performances.

      The sci-fi twist in The World’s End caught me completely by surprise. I loved Eddie Marsan and was glad to see him again in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

      I heartily second both recommendations.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Took a look at the summary on Wikipedia.

    Looks like ordinary people trying to get through a compounding series of bad situations and backstory baggage.

  11. stoic traffic lights
    swing apocalyptically
    in the searching wind

  12. Heather Angus says:

    “As the narrative unfolds during the days and months after Joe’s death through events and flashbacks, we come to realize the layers of sadness, disappointment, and grief that make this situation unbearable for Lee and others in the family and community. In particular, we learn of one past tragedy that changed and colored everything, weighing down Lee and everyone else in relentless and merciless ways.”

    Sounds like a wonderful movie, but not for depressives with S.A.D. on top. I’ll stick with “Scrooge.”

    • Good point.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Yeah. I’m waiting for my lot in life to improve a bit before I watch The Road. I might put this into that hopper.

      I wish someone would make a decent movie about St. Nicholas or St. Benedict.

      • “The Road” is stunning in written form. Cormac McCarthy’s prose paints an amazingly bleak picture using beautifully descriptive language.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          Nobody matches McCarthy for describing nihilistic scenarios in glorious language. My head is still buzzing from Blood Meridian.

  13. This empty, grieving man who doesn’t know what to say in social settings reminds me of myself when I was a child. Through the first 12 years of my life, I was wrapped in a frequently mute inability to express myself or contact the world around me, which means that I was almost constantly lonely and sad. Since then it’s been one long uphill battle to break out of isolation, at some times more successful than others. But the lonely, sad boy who doesn’t have much to say has stayed with me, despite appearances to the contrary on this blog and in other places. He’s my constant companion in life, and I know that at my death he will be with me when all others have disappeared over the horizon of awareness. May God have mercy on him and me.

    • Christiane says:

      I think your poetry is a way of communicating for you, and it really does express a great deal …. so glad you share it with us, Robert