Monday, December 26, 2016

"Manchester By The Sea" is a destination worth traveling

Manchester By The Sea Review
We are human beings. Part of being human is not always being on top, sometimes we feel pain and sometimes we grieve. Sometimes that sorrow can drown out everything else, until you look in the mirror and you don't recognize the person you see in that mirror. Have any of you ever had a pain so great that it completely changed you as a person? Has the bad luck ever piled up so high that happiness has been completely shut out, unable to flinch and it feels like it will never come back? We have had several movies come out over the history of the medium that examines grief, but they always have the Hollywood ending. Something happens to the characters that makes them snap out of their funk, that it will all be okay. There is always a silver lining, the grass is greener on the other side, in time even this shall pass.

But sometimes, that's not always the case. Everybody is different. Not everybody is wired to jump right back up after they've been knocked down. Especially when they are continually knocked down, unable to fully get back to their feet. Sometimes its not easy to just flip a switch and everything is the same again. That's precisely what "Manchester By The Sea" is about. We meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) in Boston. He's a janitor and handyman for a set of apartment buildings. He lives in a room, and I say room because you can barely call what he has as an apartment. He seems completely oppressed to show any sort of emotion. Even when he works up enough anger to get into a fight at the bar, it almost feels like he's pulling his own teeth in order to get the emotions out. Something is apparently eating at him, changed whomever he used to be.

Then comes the phone call. His brother (Kyle Chandler) has died. He has been battling a rare heart condition. He was told he'd only live to be 50 or maybe 60 tops. It was a  horrible, horrible predicament to be in and it took his life. Lee races up to Manchester to see his brother's dead body. Lee prepares to help with the arrangements. He thinks he'll only be gone from work for a week tops. Then he reads his brother's will and finds out that his brother has named him the guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), his 16-year-old nephew. Lee begins to help take care of Patrick, and wants Patrick to move back with him to Boston. Patrick wants to stay in Manchester, his whole life is right there, and he believes Lee can get handyman work anywhere in Manchester. But that very thing that haunting Lee, that keeps eating away at him is here in Manchester and he doesn't know if can go back to the city he once called home.

One thing that "Manchester By The Sea" nails is the power of memory. There is nothing else on the planet like memory. Much of the film plays in flashbacks from the perspective of Lee. And much like my own memory, it seems like Lee's memory is something alive. It seems like the smallest detail can bring a memory back to livid, vivid life. Memories come back to Lee so powerfully that the audience is sunk by the weight of their power. I feel my memory works like this, something so small can bring something so massive and important, and sometimes it may not be something I really want to remember, but it doesn't matter. Memory doesn't care if you want to remember something or not, and its hard to tell what triggers things for us to remember. We are constantly reminded of that power throughout the movie.

To pick a great performance in the movie is quite the task. I can tell you that Casey Affleck is near-perfect here. We've never seen him so alive in a character before, which is sort of ironic since the character Lee is mainly invisible emotionally. The screenplay is written so well that Affleck is able to make a fully-functional human being out of it. Affleck gets every character beat just right, scene-after-scene. He is perfectly matched by Lucas Hedges, he follows Affleck through pretty much every scene in the movie and the pair pull off two incredible performances. Hedges is a discovery for me, and I can't wait to see what he does next. Kyle Chandler has small presents in this film, but he makes sure it hits hard, because it does. There are also very good performances by Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick. Then there is Michelle Williams, who brings everything in this film to another level entirely.

The reason these performances resonate so highly is not only because of the power of the performers, but the generosity in the script. Every character has the time and the room to breath, the actors have the time to really create a character. At almost two hours and twenty minutes, there is plenty of time to get to know the characters, have them shine and bring their emotions out. It is a very well written screenplay. 

"Manchester By The Sea" is not some movie that forces a happy ending. This is a light-switch movie where something turns on inside the characters and everything is okay again. "Manchester By The Sea" is proof that broken wings need to mend before the bird can fly again. Sometimes nursing a broken heart takes time, perhaps more time than our friends or loved ones would want or need, but we can't judge people on their pain. That's the hardest lesson "Manchester By The Sea" teaches us, and by the end I was devastated.


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