I went back and forth about whether I wanted to see this film. The primary reason was the whole sexual assault charges against Casey Affleck that he settled. Giving attention to an actor who seemed to have the means (money, fame, family influence) to avoid jail time was not someone I wanted to give my attention to. Plus on a larger scale it was my way of telling Hollywood that their history of turning a blind eye on or condoning this crime by continuing to give these criminals jobs was not okay. Then the film was nominated for a bunch of Oscars including Casey Affleck for Actor in a Leading Role and I caved as I try to see as many of the Oscar nominated films as possible. Even after seeing the film I am not sure how I feel about the whole thing, but a friend tried to make me feel better by saying that a lot of good people were involved in it. That took some (not all) of the pressure off and allowed to me to think about the film in as unbiased a way as possible.
Everything about the film (trailers, marketing, etc.) makes you think this is the saddest film out there. The grey clouds and the hound dog face of Lee in every scene lends to selling this atmosphere. i sat there through the entire film waiting for that heartbreaking moment and, for me, it never came. That is not to say that I was disappointed by Kenneth Lonergan’s (You Can Count on Me) Manchester by the Sea. It just was different than what I expected.
Lee (Casey Affleck – Gone Baby Gone, Interstellar) works as a handyman in an series of apartment buildings. He is good at his job and a diligent worker, but to say that he is a people person would be a lie. Previously married to Randi (Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) and they had two kids. A tragedy occurred and they are no longer together. It seems to be something that Lee has carried with him since.
He gets a call one day that his brother (Kyle Chandler – The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty) has had a heart attack. Lee drives the 90 minutes to Manchester though by the time he gets there Joe is dead. It is now up to Lee to tell Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) that his father is dead. Though he takes it pretty well as it was expected due to his father’s heart problems, he is still a teenager who has lost the only parent he has known. Patrick’s mother was a drunk and hasn’t been around for a long time.
Lee seems to have quite a reputation around town and it is painfully apparent that he is ill at ease in his hometown. On top of this unease and the fact that he has lost his brother his life becomes even more tense when his brother’s lawyer tells him that Joe has named him guardian of Patrick. It is a responsibility that Lee obviously doesn’t want. He asks good family friend George (C.J. Wilson – from television’s Homeland) if he will take him. The answer is no and Patrick’s mom (Gretchen Mol – Donnie Brasco, Sweet and Lowdown), who is back in the picture kind of, indicates she is not interested either. Lee seems to be the only option. On top of this Lee runs into his ex and Randi tells him she is pregnant and wants to come to Joe’s funeral. The tension between the two is palpable.
Uncle and nephew butt heads over where they are going to live. Lee wants to go back to Boston whereas Patrick wants to remain in Manchester as he is playing hockey there and his friends and girlfriends are there. After trying this for a bit, it becomes obvious that Lee cannot deal with being in Manchester.
This is a rather intricate film. Lonergan, director and screenwriter, has given us a finely tuned film to watch. Inserting humour in order to keep things from being too heavy. The script is rather well constructed in the subtle way that it doesn’t show all its cards at once. Elements of the story are leaked out a little at a time. You learn more as you go on. Begin to understand why characters behave the way they do. Fleshing out the story and characters bit by bit. Keeps things balanced.
My favourite part of the film is the dialogue. It is witty, rich and textured. The many conversations between Lee and Patrick are all great. Never a wasted moment and really shows you who each character is. Gentle, warm and heartbreaking.
Overall a good film, but I still had some questions at the end. The whole previously discussed Casey Affleck aspect and should we reward a criminal with the recognition of an Oscar nomination. Plus the Michelle Williams nomination. I do think she is a good actress, but is not deserving of a nomination for her performance in this film. Was she onscreen for even 10 minutes? Not sure and not sure how much she added to the film.