MOVIE REVIEW | Manchester By the Sea (2016)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I never once wondered why critics have been praising this movie as much as they have for an entire year.”
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“I said a lot of terrible things to you, my heart was broken, but I know yours was broken too.”

It might be hard to remember now, but there once was a time when La La Land wasn’t talked about as the clear front runner for every Oscar up for grabs this year, and probably even somehow retroactively winning a few from years gone by.  Yep, before it broke the record for most Golden Globe wins and topped the list for most number of Academy Award nominations this year, there was another movie that was getting all the Oscar buzz.  From this time last year when it showed at Sundance, to when it was eclipsed by La La Land a month or three ago, Manchester By the Sea was the belle of the Oscar speculation ball.  Now that I’ve seen both movies, the concept of somehow comparing the two to decide which is better seems kind of absurd.

Sad sack Boston janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) goes about his days unclogging toilets, shovelling snow and dealing with one annoying tenant after another.  It’s clear that Lee isn’t happy. He gets even less happy when he receives a call alerting him to his brothers’ (Kyle Chandler as Joe) death an hour and half away in the seaside, New England town of Manchester.  In and out of hospital for years with a heart condition, Joe’s death isn’t a surprise to Lee, what is a surprise is Joe’s will, announcing that Lee is now the legal guardian of Joe’s 16 year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

With a series of flashbacks, it becomes clear that Lee’s less than enviable life in Boston is self imposed.  As is his exile from Manchester, where we learn he once had his own family, with now ex wife, Randi (Michelle Williams).  As Lee’s tragic past becomes more and more revealed, finding a way to deal with his present becomes more and more important.

Seeing Manchester By the Sea, the long gestating hype and Oscar buzz was immediately justified.  Affleck gets to deliver one of those heavy, tragic, dramatic showcase performances that acting awards are made for.  It tells a heavy, tragic, dramatic story that Oscar voters seem quick to recognise as awards worthy.  Watching Manchester By the Sea, I never once wondered why critics have been praising this movie as much as they have for an entire year.

It’s undeniably great.  So great, it brings me back to the idea of choosing a best movie of the year being kind of absurd.  Comparing Manchester By the Sea to La La Land, or Lion, or Hell or High Water, or any other Best Picture finalist is an apples and oranges situation.  These are all movies I really liked, but I liked them all for different reasons, because they’re all doing different things in an effort to accommodate different results.

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La La Land made me grin like an idiot for two hours. Lion made me feel almost guilty for how sucked in I was by its uplifting feel goodness.  For me, Hell or High Water is the best told story of the bunch.  And Manchester By the Sea might be the most personal, the one that feels like it really meant something to everyone involved in making it and that it needed to be told, whether an audience was every going to see it or not.

Manchester By the Sea
Directed By – Kenneth Lonergan
Written By – Kenneth Lonergan

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