BY ROGER THOMAS
“Manchester by the Sea” sounds like a picturesque vacation destination. And from the cinematography of this film, I am fairly confident Manchester is all of that and much more. I certainly would like to visit this beautiful place.
However, like every real community across our nation, there are beautiful settings and happiness, friendship, struggles, and heartache. As beautiful as a setting can be, the residents and former residents of any community more than likely have memories of pure joy and recollections that still harbor acute pain that heals slowly if it all.
“Manchester” has been touted for some time as one of the best films of 2016. Recently the film was chosen by the National Board of Review as the top film of the year. So here is the question, is the film one of the best?
“Manchester” has a somewhat simple premise: Lee Chandler, played to perfection by Casey Affleck, has to travel to his former home of Manchester to settle his brother’s estate. Joe, the deceased brother, has a sixteen-year-old son and has left Lee in charge of his estate and his teenager. Lee is neither ready nor interested in becoming the guardian of his nephew.
I admit that the beginning of the film left me questioning the brilliance. Could all of those raves just been misguided rantings? The opening story is told with many flashbacks between the current plot and past, neither of which was drawing me into the story. The film literally created in me two independent feelings about the film. First, this film is creeping along heading no where. Secondly I thought I am not sure I want to know or care for these characters.
Then it happened. Something unexpected and changed every moment as the film moved forward. I was stunned by the brilliance and I was absolutely captivated until the final credits rolled. How can a film change in such an extreme way? Actually it did not change. It was there the whole time. The early scenes and the many flashbacks were necessary in order for the emotions that lay ahead to make an impact. Needless to say, I loved every moment of the film following the shift in the story, and actually, I loved it all entirely.
There are many talented people who made “Manchester” succeed so grandly. First, Kenneth Lonegrin wrote and directed the film. His direction is great, but few films this year have come close to the brilliance of his screenplay. He has only written and directed three scripts; hopefully he will do more in the coming days.
Casting Casey Affleck was a grand decision. His character Lee is the heart and soul of the film and it is through Lee’s experiences that we understand the heartache that fills this story. Both Affleck and Michelle Williams may get Oscar nominations, and Casey is the current frontrunner. Young Lucas Hedges is also getting buzz in the role of the nephew Casey’s character inherits.
Beyond the cast and the director-writer, there are many other elements of the film that strong. The cinematography and the set design especially enhance the film.
But in the end, as it almost always does, the story matters. I heard someone say once about films something like this: “When you cry during a movie, you are not crying for the fake character on the screen who you will never meet. However, you are allowing the film to move you to release some of the pent-up emotion you have been carrying.”
I found that release several times during the story of “Manchester on the Sea.” As I said at the beginning of the review, all communities and families have times of grief. Sharing that experience, when we can, makes us less alone.