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Manchester By The Sea Review

22 Nov

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The one constant during times of grief is that no two people react in exactly the same way. One might break down in tears. Another might suppress emotion. One might hug and kiss the dead body of his or her loved one. Another might turn away immediately at the door. Manchester By The Sea understands the small differences that make us human and the messy, uncertain, and difficult swirl of emotions that follow the losses in our lives. It delves into the way that life goes on even if it seems like time stops, and it underscores the fact that putting one foot in front of the other can be one of the most difficult things to do every day.


It’s a story about guilt and the ways it manifests in our past and present relationships. It’s a story about how the possibility of forgiveness can reshape the intersection between who we were and who we are. It’s a story about the little moments we share and the rays of light that can hopefully crack through an overhanging cloud. Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay lives in those little moments, deftly mixing humor and devastating drama as he slowly rolls out the backstory of his characters. This is backstory that could easily fail big time, but doesn’t. It’s not perfect, but the flashbacks don’t feel intrusive and both threads come together beautifully at the end.

Lesley Barber’s score has a classical air to it, its piano and strings helping drive some of the more moving sequences in the film. Jody Lee Lipes’s cinematography is impressive in its simplicity, the beautiful serenity of the open waters at the beginning giving way to the cold and dreary streets later on. Jennifer Lame’s editing stitches together short scenes and numerous flashbacks into a coherent, affecting whole. And of course, the entire cast is absolutely phenomenal; it’s a testament to their skill that they rein themselves in just enough not to be overwrought. In particular, Kyle Chandler is his usual comforting self, Michelle Williams is intense and heartbreaking, and Lucas Hedges finds depth in a difficult role. Hedges has the task of being part of a pairing with your newest Academy Award Best Actor winner, Casey Affleck, and he’s excellent.

Meanwhile, Affleck has now given two of the best performances I’ve ever seen (the other in Assassination of Jesse James), and watching him in this is astounding. The best thing Matt Damon ever did for this film was let Casey take his place. His character, Lee, isn’t the most expressive individual in the world, but we can still see the reservoir of pain and guilt inside of him written on his face and in his body language. It’s one of the most showy subtle performances I’ve seen, and it’s intensely calibrated while feeling absolutely genuine. One of his best moments comes early on: as he waits in the morgue to see his dead brother’s body, his hands awkwardly rise to his hips–then back down–as if he’s uncertain about the right way to stand. It’s the power of body language used to perfection, and it’s emblematic of the entire film if you think about it. There is no right way to stand. There is no right way to act. Time progresses, and because life seems to have endless ways to shit on you, you can never completely move on. You’re always going to be faced with that nagging feeling that you aren’t worthy or that everything’s your fault or that looking ahead is impossible, and you realize that life can be taken away just like that. Before that happens, though–and it will–maybe you can try to look at the people around you and the life you still hold and try to take a few steps forward. Start a band. Argue about Star Trek. Throw the ball around. Take the boat out. Hopefully, you can find something in life’s tiniest moments.

GRADE: A-

Matt Damon Q&A:

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Casey Affleck Q&A:

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Got to shake his hand and compliment him on his Jesse James performance.

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2 Responses to “Manchester By The Sea Review”

  1. peggyatthemovies December 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    Just saw this one the other night.. supposed to have the Director but he cancelled and we got Casey.. I liked the movie a lot in reference to showing human grief.. I’m not sure I loved it though. I’m still debating on it in my brain as I’ve seen literally 10 or so movies in a row and some have just blown my mind. I liked Casey a lot in it, but until the very end scene with him and Michelle Williams.. I didn’t love him at that moment they both broke my heart. I also liked the flashbacks more than the in time sequences.. I think you’re probably going to be coming to L.A. every Oscar season now as you get so many good screenings ..riiigghhtt??!!! 😀

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Top 30 Films of 2016 | Polar Bears Watch TV - February 25, 2017

    […] 6. Manchester By The Sea – By far my most anticipated film going into 2016, and man is it good. It lives in the little moments, Lonergan’s script effortlessly blending humor and drama as subtleties occasionally give way to big, heartbreaking scenes. A wonderful balancing act. […]

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