For Reel

Manchester by the Sea (2016)
January 3, 2017, 3:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
4.5 Starsmanchester-by-the-sea
As the title would suggest, much of the drama the plays out in Kenneth Lonergan’s new film involves place. The town of Manchester is not only the home that a teenage boy (Lucas Hedges) will fight to stay in, but the place where his newly-deemed guardian (Casey Affleck) will be forced to reckon with his past while searching for the cleanest route out. If the film is about the sentimental sense of tradition that permeates through a small-town, it also argues that places carry the weight of things—they can be the landscapes for our deepest moments of regret and shame. That Affleck’s Lee Chandler, a clearly broken man, has to return home and takes on a flurry of new responsibilities might suggest that Manchester by the Sea is a simple melodrama about healing and forgiveness. It is, hauntingly, neither of those things—if the characters are not static, there is no sense of tidy resolution. Lonergan builds upon the surface narrative concerns in the way he constructs the story, with a number of flashbacks forcing the audience to place when each event took place. Similarly, just as the characters have a foundation in what they leave unsaid (this is very much a film about an inability to communicate), Lonergan allows the audience to fill in many of the blanks. When Michelle Williams speaks with remorse about the things she’s said in her character’s past, Lonergan never indulges a glimpse into exactly what the specific vitriol was—if he is unafraid to deal with the basic construct of a melodrama, he concerns himself mainly with the fallout of defining moments rather than the moments themselves.