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Review: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is about life. With a small core cast and a realism that captivates the heart. Kenneth’s Lonergan’s third feature is a resounding, pondering success.

Casey Affleck plays a downbeat and lonely janitor, Lee who unexpectedly becomes the guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Nothing in this film is remarkable, and I mean that in the most positive way. All synopses I read pre-film bored me but don’t let that put you off: Manchester by the Sea is all character. The cast portray living, breathing, plain, yet unpredictable people. They’re strangers that I’d pass in the street. Their stories and hardships are close and real. I saw myself in Lee, and I saw my own family in the mess of connections. I saw friends, peers and incidental passers-by in the rich tapestry of humanity which makes up this symphony of life.

Affleck despondency was exploited at its best and the freer adolescent Patrick juxtaposes the Lee’s heavy demeanour of supressed pain. Michelle Williams’s portrayal of Lee’s ex-wife Randi was good. The emotion in Randi and Lee’s relationship wasn’t forced, but carried a natural feel. The other notable portrayal was a crafted scene of reunion featuring Heather Burns and Matthew Broderick. I will omit to mention their characters as not to spoil the plot, but the ordinary awkwardness and harsh implications exhibited are an example of how well the film relates to reality.

This is not Hollywood. Glitz, glamour and foppish montages have no place in Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece. The uplifting highs and the crushing lows aren’t fuelled by explosions, sensuality or cheap laughs. It’s grit, character and misery. Tragedy isn’t represented with an airbrushed face and a modest handful of sobs, it’s stinted and difficult to watch because it’s a little too real to smile through. Yet there are humorous moments. Lee’s social aloofness makes for funny interactions, and the way Lee and Patrick rub up against each other has a warm charm, even during their pain.

It helps that the film is beautifully shot too. Colourful enough to be lively but dull enough to reflect the cold unwelcoming weather of Massachusetts. You feel as if you’re following the story through real neighbourhoods and real homes. It was also fantastic to see a well-made US film shot outside of New York, LA or the political landscape of Capitol Hill. The scrawny New England accents and cold seaside built into the authenticity which drives the picture.

Verdict – 9.25/10 Excellent

Refreshing, well-crafted and thought-provoking, Manchester by the Sea depicts a man who plods on, without necessary dealing with his problems. He doesn’t get closure and he doesn’t find answers, and I guess largely we as humans don’t either.