MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and the Profound Sadness

Given the award show related hype surrounding MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, I made it a priority to see it as soon as possible. What I found was a movie about profound sadness and not much else.

A man returns home due to the death of his brother and finds that he was named the guardian of his teenage nephew. Now he must decide how this newfound responsibility of taking care of someone with whom he used to be very close fits in with the life he made for himself. He is also forced to deal with tragedy and his own personal demons.


The story is an interesting one, but overall it falls well short of greatness in multiple aspects. The first act takes way too long to establish the current state of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). By the point he even finds out he is now going to be responsible for his nephew, the film feels about an hour deep. The mechanisms by which they provide exposition of past events is a bit clunky. I’m not asking for every film to have a happy ending, but the culmination of MANCHESTER doesn’t even provide much of anything even resembling “bittersweetness”.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t feel like Kenneth Lonergan deserved nominations for either his screenplay or the directing. The pieces were set in place, but the scenes just lacked something, and there were a few times where I was puzzled by directorial decisions that were made. In fact, many of the scenes felt like they were a dress rehearsal caught on film and used in the final cut.


That brings me to my other big complaint, whereby another nomination feels undeserved. While I like Casey Affleck, a lot of his past work being of high quality, I didn’t feel like his performance in MANCHESTER was good enough. I realize he was probably trying to show Lee’s reaction to tragedy by going stoic and not showing much of an emotional response to the grief. The emotional elements involved throughout the film were likely enough to help most audience members become attached to his character, but how my favorite Affleck portrayed the character lacked the power that other actors have brought to similar roles. Maybe under a more seasoned director, or with a larger budget where more time could be spent during filming analyzing this or that (pun intended), they would’ve hit better notes, so to speak.


The ladies of the film really did great work, though relegated to minor roles. I would have loved to see more work from Michelle Williams, whose character had such significant potential. Even had they added just one more extended flashback scene to show what she talks to her ex-husband about when they meet on the street, it could have made the movie considerably better. Gretchen Mol had a very complex character, whose actions off-screen shape a significant portion of how characters are responding to the initiating tragedy, and yet we essentially only get two scenes with her in the entire film.

I have no complaints at all about the performance from Lucas Hedges. While I might have expected him to react differently to the loss of his father, I know grief manifests itself differently from person to person, so I wouldn’t want to try to invalidate the way it came across here. He did show signs of being a talent to watch in future roles. As always, Kyle Chandler executes well, but this role didn’t really play up to any of his strengths, and he didn’t have enough dialogue to do much with, nor was he involved in many scenes. I guess that’s to be expected, as he plays the brother/father whose death is a catalyst for the film.

I’m going to have a hard time recommending this to anyone who isn’t simply trying to see all the nominees. Its nature as a tragedy makes it harder to watch than many other kinds of film, and the issues I had with the script and performances make it even tougher to advocate for. It’s certainly not a bad film, as you’ll see by my rating, but it’s not Best Picture worthy. By far.

My rating: 75 out of 100

If you’re going to wait until DVD (Blu-ray, streaming, whatever), you may as well watch GONE BABY GONE first.


4 responses to “MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and the Profound Sadness

  1. Interesting review yo, I’ve been curious to see this film just because of the hype that’s come out of it from the film festival cricuit to its release in America. You’re the first person I’ve seen not LOVE Casey’s performance as some are saying that this is his best work to date, I like the guy in pretty much most of the films I’ve seen him in so I’m curious to see how this film turns out.

    • Thanks! It had tons of potential and some really good aspects to it, but it was far from great, and I realllllllly don’t understand Affleck getting the Golden Globe win. At all.

  2. Great review of yours, thanks. I am also ambivalent about this film. Sure the acting by Affleck is award-worthy and the filming is superb. But the ‘fight your inner demons’ is cliched and his redemption through family re-connection was predictable from the reading of the will onwards. The flashbacking was frenetic and the finale trite. A bit over-hyped I think.

    • I reallllllly don’t agree about Affleck’s acting in the film. I really don’t. The timing on everything he said was just off, and not in a way that seemed to stem from a deliberate choice. And if that’s what he was going for, he should’ve added something to the performance to show more reason as to why he was distracted or had something going on internally that was delaying his response. It just didn’t play that way for me. It played like an actor who was having trouble recalling his specific line of dialogue. Jon Hamm had times during Mad Men where he had delayed responses on things, but there was more physical, non-verbal response that went along with it that I didn’t see here from Casey. I wouldn’t have given him the award.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s