A study of clumsiness

Kenneth Lonergan on Manchester By The Sea and moments when life doesn't cooperate.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones with Manchester By The Sea director/writer Kenneth Lonergan
New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones with Manchester By The Sea director/writer Kenneth Lonergan Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The time structure of Manchester By The Sea, starring Casey Affleck with Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, and Lonergan's You Can Count On Me star Matthew Broderick, is less concerned with flashbacks than with braiding the past into the present.

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. 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).

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck as Joe and Lee Chandler
Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck as Joe and Lee Chandler

Kenneth Lonergan's tuneful, stirring, and often very funny dialogue and the great performances are also aided by an exceptionally real use of objects. The body language horrors after someone dies, the awkward condolences and the shortcomings of not knowing how to react to another person's grief - the film is a masterful study of clumsiness.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Objects often fail us in real life and objects fail them a lot in your film. The stretcher that doesn't go into the ambulance, the chicken falling out of the freezer, the car being gone. Were they all in the script? Did some of those things happen while filming? Can you talk about those objects?

Kenneth Lonergan: That's a really great question. The only object that I can think of off hand that was not in the script was the ambulance failure, the gurney failing to collapse properly so it can get inside the ambulance. That's just an interesting observation. I hadn't thought of it exactly except that I know I can never get the door open and drawers are always stuck and we don't have a TV because I put my back to it, thinking it was an old-fashioned Cathode ray tube TV and it's a flatscreen TV and then it just died.

And this is something I guess that I grapple with personally in life a great deal. I think, to answer your question in a slightly less personal way, I think that there's something about that's interesting when the world is not lining up for you. Even in these moments of great sorrow, you know, the pencil falls on the floor or the doctor tries to hug you and you don't see it, so you bump into each other. It could be any number of things. And physical objects very often don't do what you want. I think it's just a part of life.

Kenneth Lonergan: "Those were the local Manchester EMS guys and the gurney just wouldn't fold down."
Kenneth Lonergan: "Those were the local Manchester EMS guys and the gurney just wouldn't fold down." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

So, anything that helps to enrich the, I won't say fabrication, but the recreation of reality and the impression of reality and emotional reality is always useful. And when that gurney was collapsed after we did two takes of that particular scene, sequence. Those were the local Manchester EMS guys and the gurney just wouldn't fold down. We did one take but I kept the camera rolling and then they got her inside the ambulance.

And then I said to them afterwards: "You guys we can stop for 15 minutes, if you guys just want to practice or if it needs to be oiled" No, no, we got it, we got it, it's fine. And then the second time it took twice as long. And I think it's great.

AKT: It's great!

KL: It's so awful. And it's awful, to me, anyway, it's not a soap opera moment where the whole world stops waiting for you to suffer. You know, they're really suffering and they can't get the thing to go in the ambulance. Anyway, it's just my attempt to make it as excruciating as possible.

Manchester By The Sea final New York Film Festival screening: Tuesday, October 11 at 9:00pm - Alice Tully Hall - Expected to attend: Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and more.

Manchester By The Sea will screen at the BFI London Film Festival on October 8 at 6:00pm; October 9 at 11:00am and October 11 at 8:45pm.

Manchester By The Sea opens in the US on November 18 and the UK on January 13, 2017.

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