It was a very strange feeling to me.
After seeing Manchester by the Sea, I left the theater and did not know what to think. Did I like it? Was it one of the best movies of the year? I could not say. As I was leaving the parking lot, I felt like I was catching some sort of virus. The movie had begun its process of growing on me, and has ever since. To the previous two questions, I say yes without a single thought of hesitation.
The movie centers on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a plumber/repairman in Boston. He is told that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart disease that he was diagnosed with years earlier. He is to break the news to Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and discovers that Joe left Lee as his guardian.
The rest of the plot is not for me to reveal, only for you to discover. We learn Lee has had a past he regrets in the town of Manchester, and we get flashback scenes including those with Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams, wonderful as always) and Patrick’s drug addict of a mom (Gretchen Mol).
Still, it is the performances by Affleck and Hedges that carry this movie to the next level. Each deserve Oscar consideration. Affleck (younger brother of Ben) is considered to be the front-runner for Best Actor this year, and it is clear why. His performance is not filled with grand speeches or over the top moments (well a few). It is a contained performance, one that we identify with, or at least try to. He seems like a person we would meet on the street but forget if we only were talking to him for five minutes or so.
Lucas Hedges gives one of the better breakthrough performances in recent memory as Patrick. I have seen teens like this in my life who act and feel and talk and express emotions this way. It is a transcendent performance.
Parents, the R rating is justified. There is a lot of swearing that any middle schooler or High Schooler would hear, but the content of the film is too much for anyone not older than seventeen (maybe a mature 15 or 16-year-old, maybe). There is also sexual content, as Patrick is trying to have sex with one of his girlfriends (he has two that don’t know about the other), and we see a teenage girl in lingerie.
Is Manchester by the Sea an easy film to sit through? Heavens, no. Yet at the same time, you can’t take your eyes off of it. Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan (who should get Oscar consideration for both writing and directing), the film does seem to go a little long, but it will stay with you for as long as it wants to. I doubt it is leaving my mind and soul any time soon, and I hope it doesn’t.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2