Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Running Time: R
Rating: 2 hours, 17 minutes

"Manchester by the Sea" has been getting a lot of awards show season buzz. They're practically calling it Best Picture already, and engraving Casey Affleck's name on the Oscar. I thought it was pretty good, not great, but indeed a well-delivered performance by the stronger actor of the Affleck brothers. (Yes, I'll go out on a limb here and say that Ben has superior directing chops while Casey has him in the acting department; see "Gone Baby Gone" as Exhibit A.) The narrative is a nice change, as we learn most about the characters in flashbacks, and the cinematography and score are both strong. But the star here is Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay and Affleck's understated performance of the main character, Lee. Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges also offer memorable supporting roles. That being said, I'm pretty lukewarm about this film.

Lee is a custodian living in Boston, doing whatever it takes to get through the work shift and the day. We learn how he ended up like this in flashbacks with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, yum) and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Lee's personality is pretty even-keel, but it's because he's suppressing some serious pain and grief that he hasn't come to terms with yet. He doesn't want to handle this pain nor does he know how. Joe's expected yet ill-timed death brings Lee back to his hometown of Manchester, where he is reunited with his nephew, Joe's son Patrick. Much to Lee's dismay, he finds out he is to be Patrick's guardian, as his mother is out of the picture.

The "present day" scenes take place in a matter of days: Lee and Patrick set about planning Joe's funeral, pick out a casket, postpone the burial because the ground is frozen outside, and all the while Lee attempts to "parent" Patrick to the best of his ability. He drives him to hockey practice, band practice and monitors Patrick's girlfriend situation (he has 2). The conversations and dialogue between characters, especially Lee and Patrick, is incredibly realistic and at times, humorous.

After learning about Lee's tragedy, one might wonder why he wasn't given a cathartic, emotionally-driven, waterfall of emotions kind of scene. This would have been the easy way out, and it's interesting that Lonergan didn't write one for him. Affleck plays this stiff, stifled emotion incredibly well. Williams delivers Randi's waterfall of emotions kind of scene with the excellence that only she knows how.

This film didn't stick with me, but it might be worth a re-watch. My colleagues, the critics, are getting way excited about this movie, but the pace was too slow for me, and it dragged on about 30 minutes too long.

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