I put off watching this movie for a while. There’s something about the way this movie is presented in the trailers that made me see it as one of those overly dramatic “Oscar bait” type of movies that would only bore me to death. It definitely is a movie that was made specifically to try to win some awards, but it’s actually a pretty interesting story.
Manchester by the Sea follows Lee, a plumber who finds out his brother has died, and that he must now be the guardian of his nephew, Patrick. It’s a pretty simple story that the direction and screenplay elevate to be a pretty good movie. Easily the most interesting part of the movie is Lee himself. Due to some things that happened in his past, he is now very emotionally closed off. He tends to be apathetic toward pretty much everything around him and it’s clear that his life isn’t the greatest. Even when he interacts with his family he comes off as if he’s a stranger rather than a relative. There is a scene where Patrick asks him if he can invite a friend over, and Lee’s response is a look of confusion. He doesn’t understand why Patrick feels the need to even see him as a parental figure. These type of interactions show exactly how messed up Lee really is. The movie uses a series of flashbacks to help the audience understand how Lee got to this point. This was done pretty effectively with a scene that was especially hard to sit through.
This brings me to a strength of this movie, the tone. Director Kenneth Lonergan shot this movie in a way that was able to capture the sorrow of pretty much every character in the movie. As an audience member it beats you down and makes it harder to take the next step with the characters. The score also helped with this. I thought the score for this movie was beautifully done and effectively implemented. It helped drive home this depressing feeling that every character had. Longergan also chose to use a lot of grey in his shots. The dullness of each scene where things rarely pop out at you set up the atmosphere for all of the events of the movie to take place.
The most powerful aspect of the movie were the performances. Casey Affleck as Lee is truly award-worthy in this film. He gives a very nuanced performance. He’s able to come out as this flat and seemingly emotionless character, while giving the sense that there really are some strong emotions there. Lucas Hedges as Patrick was also fantastic. I thought the way he portrayed the son trying to cope with his father’s death while trying to maintain a normal life was done so well. His interactions with Lee developed this very realistic relationship. Michelle Williams isn’t in the movie for long, but I think she’s great with when she’s on screen. There’s one specific scene where she really gets to let loose some serious emotion, and it’s amazing. What I can say about these portrayals is they’re extremely grounded and realistic. They’re intentionally flat and devoid of dramatic flair.
This movie isn’t without its flaws though. I was shocked when I found out that this movie is 2 hours and 17 minutes long. Before I even watched it, I wondered if the run time would be justified. For the most part it is, but there are certain scenes that drag on for far too long. The overall pace of the movie is deliberately slow, but at certain points it feels like it just stops completely. This usually happens with the flashbacks. The scenes themselves were effective, but the placement of those scenes, and the frequency in which they are used, tend to put the story at a halt.
The other thing that I didn’t like is something people could argue is a strength of the movie. The film is a very grounded look at a family trying to work their way through a crisis as a man attempts to work through his own personal demons as well. This is great up until the end where there’s really no climax to the movie. The movie just kind of ends. It is the proper way to go about telling this specific story, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed when the credits just popped up.
Overall, Manchester by the Sea is a movie fueled by great performances and raw emotion. It’s a well directed movie with an intriguing screenplay to match. There is a tone that is never inconsistent and really makes the audience feel what’s going on during each scene. It does have some pacing problems though, and the end of the movie falls completely flat.
Manchester by the Sea gets a 76/100