Manchester by the Sea (2016) 4.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges
Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay

I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.—Lee Chandler

After learning that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passed away from a heart attack, Lee Chandler (Affleck) travels back to his hometown, Manchester, where he’s asked to take up guardianship of his sixteen-year-old nephew Patrick (Hedges). While taking care of his nephew, Lee has to face the trauma and shame that tore his family apart and caused him to distance himself from Manchester in the first place, including facing his ex-wife Randi (Williams).

This film is like real life in so many ways. Human awkwardness is captured so impressively by Lonergan’s script that it’s like you’re watching a scene from someone’s real life, like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation that you shouldn’t be hearing. At film’s end, I was initially really disappointed; I audibly was like “what was the point of that?!” After talking about it with my fiancee afterwards, however, we discovered that it was simply about life. It was a film about what happens when Joe Shmoe gets handed one too many lemons and doesn’t know how to make lemonade. It’s about the crushing grief and sadness and desperation that we all feel when we are faced with simply too much on our plate.

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Casey Affleck gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Lee. After learning why he’s been avoiding Manchester, we start to understand the pent-up rage behind Lee’s eyes, and we sympathize with the panic and desperation he feels when he’s thrust into this situation. He’s very grim and blunt, but it works for the part.

The chemistry between Affleck and Hedges is where the film really shines. The interactions between the two of them add a dash of sarcastic humor into a pretty dreary plotline, creating an interesting emotional cocktail. We can’t help but giggle when Lucas complains about how cold Lee’s car is and says, “Why don’t we just stick my dad in here for three months and then bury him in the spring?” Affleck and Hedges elevate each other to Oscar-worthy performances.

Manchester by the Sea is a masterpiece of human emotion. Each character brings their own baggage to the table, so we can be like, “Yep, I know how that feels.” In essence, it’s a film about living with grief—and accepting that it will always be there, and that’s just a part of life.

Fun fact: ***SPOILER-ISH ALERT***The scene where the paramedics try to roll the stretcher in the ambulance and fail was not scripted. The actors actually continued to struggle to get the stretcher in, but Kenneth Lonergan decided not to cut it.

Why you should see it: It’s a really incredible, introspective, beautifully-shot film. One of 2016’s best.

Why you shouldn’t: I can understand why some people haven’t liked it—I didn’t like it immediately after watching it—but I urge you to watch it again and view it through the lens of your own experiences.

That’s it! All nine Best Picture nominees! Back to my first-watch list starting next week. Thanks for reading!

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