Manchester By The Sea

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea - after his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.
"Manchester By The Sea is a masterful study of clumsiness."

From hockey practice to shark jokes to the fact that when you have a cold it's really hard to breathe while kissing, Kenneth Lonergan's tuneful, stirring, and often very funny dialogue and the great performances are aided by an exceptionally real use of objects. It is a film of fire and cold that bursts open in numerous little gems of perception.

The body language horrors after someone dies, the awkward condolences and the shortcomings of not knowing how to react to another person's grief - Manchester By The Sea is a masterful study of clumsiness. At a poignant moment, Freud's example from The Interpretation of Dreams is alluded to. A father whose son had just died has a dream in which the son is standing next to him, reprimanding: "Father, don't you see I'm burning?" Here, a similar dream functions as a trigger to undo some of the emotions blocked by mourning gone awry.

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The time structure is less concerned with flashbacks than with braiding the past into the present. Casey Affleck in a truly magnificent performance lets us feel the two lives of Lee Chandler, before and after his world plummets from one state of being into another. The second life has no room for the sparkle and playfulness of the first.

Upon the untimely death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea and learns that he has been named sole guardian of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). A traumatic event from the past slowly reveals itself and gives insight into the psyche of this man who currently works as a janitor in Boston, lives alone in a cell-like basement apartment, gets into bar fights and overall seems to have stored away his soul aside for safekeeping.

During a breakfast scene, the disconnect between the people is right on the table. Lee has only coffee, while Patrick eats a gigantic red salad bowl full of cereal with milk and one of his girlfriends, Silvie (Kara Hayward), has an organic yoghurt.

Gretchen Mol gives a fearless performance as Elise, Patrick's mother, who in three roller-coaster scenes makes us understand a lifetime of desolation. The first time we see her in a hospital, witnessing her husband's diagnosis. She wears a multi-coloured top with a border of black fringe around the waist. It is the perfect signifier of a woman becoming undone. Next, but further back in time, she is half-exposed, blacked out, with Joe doing damage control.

In the third encounter, Matthew Broderick as Rodney has guided her to Jesus. She is dressed in cream-coloured clothes and the food on the dining room table corresponds with good housekeeping photographs of the 1990s. Mol's eyes speak of the impossible dreams and the blame that has nowhere to go. Michelle Williams, as Lee's ex-wife Randi, goes where she has not gone before. What Lee is holding inside, she turns outside. The pain becomes visible in a luminous way.

Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges are wonderful as father and son. They fit into the world of the small seaside town, they show how to thrive within the boundaries set by society. Yes, Joe's wife is an alcoholic and yes, Patrick has two girlfriends.

Likability is a curious beast and Lonergan shows this to perfection. CJ Wilson as George is a point in case. Costume designer Melissa Toth works with codes. The women in Manchester By The Sea wearing low necklines - and there are quite a few - get nowhere in their attempts to befriend or seduce. Second husbands wear sweaters with zippers or behave as if they did in their attempts to zip-up the past.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2016
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A man returns to his hometown following the death of his brother.
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