Posted Jan 14 2017

Manchester By The Sea - This Movie Begrudgingly Rocks

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges

Although highly acclaimed as a writer, Kenneth Lonergan has had a tough time as a filmmaker, with a history of troubled productions resulting in two acclaimed movies that hardly anyone ever saw. His third outing with megaphone has been touted since its debut back at Sundance at the start of last year, as the one to elevate him out of the arthouse ghetto. And it’s good. It’s just not all that good.

Manchester By The Sea is a sad tale of bereavement and adjustment that finds quietly spoken (when isn’t he?) Affleck the junior as Lee, a man forced to try and up his game, rework his life and take charge of his teenage nephew (an excellent Hedges) when his older brother dies. It sees Affleck relocate back to his titular Massachusetts hometown. Haunted by events from his past – drip-fed by flashback – he finds himself coming up short at the time when he really needs to rise to the occasion.

A tale of family, grief and personal history, Lonergan’s film is at times as absorbing as the bleak landscape it catches in winter. But, like its central character, it is ultimately lacking. As good as Affleck is here, his character Lee remains relatively rigid throughout, progressing nowhere of significance from first scene to last. Yes, he confronts the events of his past, but he’s been changed by them even before we see the first frame. For the audience, he has nowhere to go, and goes there slowly. Ultimately, his personal malaise consumes and defines the film.

Kyle Chandler – as the dead brother/father – gives the strongest performance here, whilst Michelle Williams is underused, but takes her moments to shine and wisely makes the most of them.

Lonergan’s movie has been an awards contender all year, and whilst others presumably wiser than us (!) see Affleck as the favourite to win the remainder of this year’s Best Actor biggies, we can see it happening, but don’t necessarily agree with it, (although we can see this walking away with Best Original Screenplay, but little more.) Which is appropriate, as whilst there is a fair amount to like here, it is ultimately a slight piece, and a little bit disappointing. Ordinary People for the new millennium anyone? Just us, then.


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