PLOT- After the death of his older brother Joe ( Kyle Chandler), apartment custodian, Lee (Casey Affleck), returns to his hometown of Manchester-By-the-Sea to care for his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As he gets his brother's affairs in order, Lee must confront the demons that he abandoned in this seaside community, including a tragic incident with his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams).
LIKE - Manchester by the Sea is a bleak film. It deals with heavy issues like death, mental illness, depression, and extreme guilt. Although there are some mildly humorous moments, mostly where the humor is derived from uncomfortable situations, this does not lighten the load. I think to some audience members, Manchester by the Sea would feel impossibly depressing. However, I relish these types of films. I'm the type of person who processes emotions through art, and although I left the theatre thinking about the film, I was able to experience the heaviness and immediately let it go. It was a cathartic experience.
Manchester by the Sea has some shocking plot twists, however it's mostly a quiet film, very slice-of-life. The scenes linger. For example, when Lee goes to the hospital after his brother's accident, it almost feels like we are watching the scene play out in real time. We experience the uncomfortable elevator ride to the morgue, where a doctor is taking Lee to see his brother's body. We watch the nurses discuss his brother's bag of personal effects as Lee waits. It's slow, allowing the enormity of the situation to sink in. Manchester by the Sea is about emotions more than plot.
Affleck is intense and affecting as Lee. I'm certain if this film is recognized at awards season, it will be for Affleck's performance, possible a supporting nod to Williams. Although their roles are small, Matthew Broderick and Gretchen Mol are scene stealers. There is a wonderful dinner scene when Patrick visits his mom's house. His mom, played by Mol, is a recovering alcoholic who has recently found Jesus and wants to reconnect with her son. She has a new boyfriend, played by Broderick. This might be the most painfully awkward dinner in cinematic history.
DISLIKE- The score is odd. It's filled with overly dramatic classical music and opera. Normally, the score is not something that I give much thought to while watching a film, but in this case, it was so assaulting, that I had no choice but to take notice. Rather than heighten the emotional content, it's distracting and diminishing. It reminded me of the film and television series, Fargo, where the classical score makes the violent material even more comical, but Manchester by the Sea is definitely not a comedy. The song choice is mostly oldies, which also conflicts with the score. It's just doesn't work.
RECOMMEND- Manchester by the Sea is an honest and emotional journey of a film. It's heavy and certainly not for everyone. I think some movie goers would leave feeling shattered. When I saw it, there were people sobbing as they walked out of the theatre. However, if it sounds like the sort of film you're drawn to, it's a worthwhile way to spend a few hours. The acting and story are riveting.