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Manchester By The Sea (2016)

April 25, 2017

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Director: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me)

Bottom Line: This is going to be a difficult movie to review because my watching experience was abnormal to say the least. We had my parents over for dinner and when offering a lineup of potential movies to watch, my mom insisted we watch Manchester By The Sea because it was a lauded movie that she had already seen and hated. My wife asked if we had to finish the movie about 40 minutes in and it was pretty clear my dad was also not into it, so watching a critically acclaimed, snail-paced character drama in the middle of the day when 75% of the audience was distracted was a rather difficult task.

But I liked Manchester By The Sea and no amount of moaning on the sidelines was going to stop me from finishing it once I started. And to be fair to my mom, she said she liked it this time; and it’s reasonable to conclude that any movie you can watch a second time through you probably didn’t really hate the first time around either.

But I can understand why someone would be turned off by Manchester By The Sea. It’s incredibly bleak. And although there are number of surprisingly funny moments, it’s a sad movie that revolves around the tragic curveballs life can throw you and how, sometimes, those moments can be too overwhelming to move on from. The whole film focuses on Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler floating through life like a zombie for reasons that unfold as his story is revealed through flashbacks. It’s no surprise that Affleck won an Oscar for his role in this movie as he is truly wonderful, perfectly portraying a grieving man with emotions so boxed in that they are liable to unload with fury at any moment.

The supporting cast of Manchester By The Sea is also wonderful. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges both earned Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. While Hedges plays more of a central character and his acting prowess is constantly on display alongside Affleck, Williams got award attention for a much smaller role, but there’s an incredibly powerful scene in the third act where you can see the exact moment she earned the all the accolades.

Manchester By The Sea is a very technically sound film, with solid writing, beautiful cinematography shot near a Massachusetts shoreline, and Grade A acting all around. It’s a story about tragedy and how we grieve – and don’t always heal – and it isn’t necessarily meant to be uplifting, but sometimes that is how life is. If you are able to get past the bleak subject matter and don’t mind a slow-paced film that’s entirely focused on the characters, then there’s a pretty good film here. I wasn’t blown away by Manchester By The Sea and it won’t rank in my top 10 films of 2016, but it’s worth watching, especially for Casey Affleck’s fantastic performance.

Replay Value: Not a movie you’d want to watch multiple times, but I’d revisit it some years down the road.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Six nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan; Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams; and Oscar wins for Casey Affleck for Best Actor and Kenneth Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay.

Grade: 6/10 (recommended)

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