Faced with the prospect of going to see Manchester by the Sea, I wondered if I’m a serious movie fan at all. When it’s freezing out, wouldn’t I just be happier staying in and watching Bridget Jones’s Baby?
At least the cold weather helped make Kenneth Lonergan’s Oscar buzzy movie about bereavement immersive.
In a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee Chandler has his guilt-ridden
life existence interrupted by the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to look after his teenage nephew Patrick.
Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s a movie all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show old Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams (another tear-jerking performance as a working-class mother for the actress!) We learn that the couple have a shared tragedy – the reason Lee can’t remain in Manchester.
This causes tension with the nephew, played by Lucas Hedges. I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this kid, or how the little charmer gets all the adoring girls.
Hedges is otherwise fine (one cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy-looking life uprooted, and who happens to be bound to an emotionally closed-off, inarticulate time bomb.
Lee is aggressive, tightly wound, numb. I didn’t go into Manchester rooting for Affleck, but the performance had an authenticity that the likes of Gosling wouldn’t have had. I don’t know if it’s the kind of indelible, undeniable performance that justifies the awards sweep (before Denzel’s SAG triumph turned the Best Actor competition into a two-horse race) or if Lee Chandler is something Affleck hasn’t done before.
It’s not overwhelmingly bleak thanks to its well-observed humour, but it’s far too long – for a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.