Manchester by the Sea is a striking portrayal of grief and loss
Grief’s a b****. There’s no getting around it. I have been lucky enough to not experience it in my adolescent life thus far, but I have seen the profound impact it has had on people close to me. It isn’t an easy thing to go through and can threaten to entomb anyone in a coffin of sorrow and despair.
Most movies, in attempting to depict this, fall into an abyss of melodrama and manipulation. Such is not the case with Manchester by the Sea, which paints a striking portrayal of grief and loss, whose rock-hard essence lingers in the mind for days and weeks.
The film stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman who is called back to his hometown after a death in his family, forcing him to readdress an earlier tragedy that had taken place there years before. Like much of writer/ director Kenneth Lonergan’s previous work its beauty lies in the subtle and quieter moments which is what also makes it so authentic, true to life and powerful.
Lonergan’s screenplay is astonishingly good. The film unfolds like a careful peeling away of the layers of an onion — which wonderfully compliments Lonergan’s unique structure. Everything is done with such subtlety and grace that when the plot-reveals do come, they hit you in the most powerful way possible. And though this is an extremely bleak film, it still manages to find little moments of light-heartedness, which makes it all the more rewarding of an experience. Its naturalism is uncanny.
None of it would be possible of course, without the outstanding performances, led by a monumental Affleck. There are no showy hysterics, no swinging for the fences here, just authenticity and naturalism. And watching the emotional journey his character forgoes as each layer of emotional impassivity is stripped down makes for one of the most outstanding acting showcases I’ve witnessed in recent times.
The supporting performances from Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams are amazing as well, even if they aren’t quite up to Affleck’s level. Hedges, a relative newcomer at this point, has a similar, unforced naturalism to his performance. While Williams, who is in some of the most emotionally moving and crucial scenes of the film, nearly steals the show from Affleck.
But ultimately, I guess what makes Manchester by the Sea such a brilliant piece of work is it’s acute observations of the human condition, it’s empathy for its characters as well as its humility for the subject. It’s an ode to the shambling, messy specifics of a life enclosed in anguish, and how there are some afflictions you simply can’t recover from.
This is as real as it gets.