Release date: 13th January 2017/Watch the trailer here
Another film that has been sweeping up the trophies this awards season (predominantly in the Best Actor category), Manchester by the Sea is a moving story of an uncle who must take care of his teenage nephew after the death of the boy’s father, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Casey Affleck plays the uncle in question, Lee Chandler, who is already battling with his own demons when he receives a phone call telling him that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died. He travels to the seaside town of Manchester in Massachusetts, where he is surprised to discover that Joe has named him as the legal guardian of Joe’s son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
The two hours that follow are emotionally wrought, but also surprisingly interspersed with frequent humour. It makes for an accurate portrayal of real life: even in times of intense grief and sadness, there are still going to be moments that are genuinely funny, or at least awkwardly so. The majority of the laughs arise from newcomer Lucas Hedges, who gives a heartfelt performance as a teenager who’s too busy with band practice and juggling his two girlfriends to grieve the loss of his father, yet has a panic attack over frozen chicken. It’s another moment that is told with levity, but it’s also an important and very real one: that when people are suffering, the slightest inconveniences can sometimes trigger the biggest breakdowns.
Affleck, meanwhile, shows a very different side to depression. It’s not always tears and meltdowns and constant, visible agony: sometimes it’s more like an ever-present numbness, and Affleck captures this perfectly. There is one gut-wrenching instance, shown in one of the film’s many flashbacks, when the audience truly realises the pain that Lee is enduring, but there is no moment more heartbreaking than a scene that he shares with his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams). This is when we first get a genuine idea of just how much Lee has been broken down by his grief, and it is made all the more devastating by two subtly nuanced performances from Affleck and Williams.
Despite all of the tragedy, however, Manchester by the Sea is surprisingly uplifting at times; perhaps because of what a startlingly accurate depiction of a very real, human situation it manages to be. It’s far from escapism, but there’s something reassuring about its ‘life goes on’ attitude, and some of the very best moments are the more mundane, familiar ones. Lonergan has created a film that is deeply moving and incredibly powerful, and his masterful writing and direction have guided his spectacular cast to career-defining performances.