Manchester by the Sea is bleak but worth it


Awards season is always a big deal where movies are concerned, and every year there are several standouts which garner the majority of critics’ acclaim. This was how I found out about Manchester by the Sea, the plot of which revolves around a man, Lee Chandler, returning to his Massachusetts hometown (where the title gets its name) to take care of his nephew after his brother Joe succumbs to heart disease. Lee (portrayed in a career-topping performance by Casey Affleck) has faced a devastating event in his personal life and has been dealing with depression ever since.

Lee is working as a janitor/handyman in Boston when he gets the call from the hospital. Upon returning to Manchester by the Sea, he has to take care of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick, handle the funeral arrangements — a problem because the events take place during winter, where the ground in Massachusetts is frozen solid — and attempt to settle Joe’s will and last wishes the best he can. If all that wasn’t enough, the return to his hometown brings up a lot of buried memories that Lee has done his best to put behind him.

I found the critical acclaim to be richly deserved. The story is not a happy one; it may be one of the saddest movies you’ve seen in a long, long time. However, the sadness is expressed in a very real, non-superficial way that makes you feel as though you’re really getting a glimpse into people’s lives instead of an artificially generated movie scene. I saw the characters as normal, blue-collar folks, not impossibly beautiful and perfect actors. There are also surprisingly funny moments included — especially those between Lee and Patrick — and they genuinely made me and many others in the theater laugh out loud. If those moments were excluded, the story might have gone from very sad to downright depressing.

The acting was absolutely outstanding. No critic seems to disagree with this. Affleck’s performance was the core of the whole movie and deserving of every bit of praise directed his way. He’s already taken home a Golden Globe and seems slated to win the Oscar. Michelle Williams gave a short but incredibly emotional performance as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, and relative newcomer Lucas Hedges shone as Patrick.

All in all, Manchester by the Sea is a beautifully made film, the likes of which are hard to come by. It’s honest, it’s poignant, it’s eye-opening and I loved it. The sadness factor is not a joke, so if you’re on the fence about seeing it, you may want to wait for a gray, rainy afternoon. However, if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, watch it. You surely won’t regret it.