MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. A film that engages completely
“The search for balance between drama and comedic elements is a daily bread for many director-authors. However, tragicomedy is a convention so complex and delicate that only a few filmmakers succeed in achieving success in it. Kenneth Lonergan, a recognized playwright, screenwriter, and director, demonstrates with his third feature film that he is a master at finding the golden mean between sadness, joy, and a whole palette of other challenging emotions.
I am not afraid to call Manchester by the Sea a masterpiece, as I have not experienced such emotionally engaging cinema in a long time—sometimes very difficult to perceive, yet at the same time, moving to tears.
Lonergan’s work is burdened with an extraordinary dramatic load, but the emotional tension is regularly and almost masterfully discharged, so that upon leaving the cinema, one does not feel depression or sadness but satisfaction from experiencing a film of the highest caliber. Manchester by the Sea engages completely, and although most of us probably did not have to go through the trauma that the film’s main character faces, it evokes genuine empathy and a whole range of other deeply human feelings.
Lee is a caretaker in a typical Boston neighborhood, taking care of the apartments of Italian-Irish immigrants, fixing installations, unclogging toilets, and changing light bulbs. He shows almost angelic patience, although his expression betrays how much he despises his work. After a brief introduction, Manchester by the Sea quickly turns into a classic family drama, where the loss of a loved one becomes a pretext for settling accounts with the past. The silent Lee, about whom we know little at first, learns about his brother’s death and goes to the titular Manchester—but not the British one, but a town an hour and a half away from Boston, which he left some time ago. At first, the motives of the hero are unknown, but fragments of dialogues and introduced retrospections gradually form a picture of a macabre event that caused Lee’s alienation. The protagonist, leading a solitary life for a long time, must take care of his teenage nephew, who has no intention of making his uncle’s task easier.
Manchester by the Sea is one of those films where every word, every gesture, and every sound have immense significance. All scenes seem important to the final shape of the film; there is not a single element that could seem unnecessary. Grieving has been portrayed in cinema hundreds of times, but there are few works that depict this difficult process so completely, delving into all the stages and forms it takes. In his latest film, Lonergan somewhat continues the themes explored in his full-length debut, You Can Count on Me from 2000, where he also told the story of difficult sibling relationships and family conflicts. In Manchester by the Sea, the director puts the main character to many tests, and the gradually revealed cards of his dramatic history elicit increasing sympathy for the unfortunate man. However, with Lonergan, there is no martyrdom—numerous humorous scenes, largely based on excellent dialogues between Lee and his nephew, provide a positive charge large enough to soften the emotional tone of this story.
Casey Affleck, who was previously seeking a breakthrough role defining him as an actor, created a performance that could not go unnoticed in the awards season.
His Lee is a broken but determined man, determined to fulfill the mission left to him by his deceased brother. His face flawlessly expresses the pain that we get to know better with each subsequent scene. Lucas Hedges, partnering with him (known, among other things, for small roles in Wes Anderson’s films), brings distance and directness to the story, which starkly contrasts with the uncle’s attitude. In all of this, Michelle Williams plays a sensational, albeit small role, and together with Affleck, she creates the most powerful emotional scene in the film that will leave no viewer indifferent. Acting-wise, Manchester by the Sea sets an unmatched standard for many more loudly and “star-studded” dramas.
Kenneth Lonergan’s work is extraordinary and moving, reaching every, even the most deeply hidden, sensitivity of the viewer. Enough has already been written—Manchester by the Sea is undoubtedly one of the best titles of 2016, so a screening with Affleck, Hedges, and Williams is a must for every cinephile.