Manchester by the Sea: A Sad, Real, Modern Classic


Manchester by the Sea begins with Lee (Casey Affleck) and his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights) catching fish on the brisk, calm rivers of Massachusetts, accompanied by Joe’s young son, Patrick. Lee asks Pat that if they got stuck on one of the close islands and one person had to take care of him, help him, and be his best man, and it was between Lee and Joe, who would Patrick choose? Patrick gleefully responds, “My daddy!”

At this point in the story, we see Lee in present time. He is a shell of the loving husband with three kids that he used to be. He lives in a one room apartment in Boston and is a plumber. In the present, Lee Chandler is a highly irritable, speak-when-spoken-to individual who shuts himself off from any potential relationships.

In one scene at a bar after he has finished his work day, he sees two men across the bar who are clearly talking about him not so discreetly. They even say, “Here he comes,” when Lee approaches. Lee asks, “Do I know you guys?” to which the men respond, “No.” Confirming, Lee says, “So we’ve never met before?” Again, the men respond with the same answer. To this, Lee explicitly asks them why they were talking about him, and the men respond angrily. And not for the last time in the film, Lee hits one of the men square across the face, with an intensity that can be both heard and deeply felt.

Casey Affleck (left) and Lucas Hedges (right) star in Oscar contender Manchester by the Sea.

We later learn in flashbacks that Lee’s isolated life (if you can call it that) in Boston is an atonement for an unspeakable tragedy with his family to which he was linked. The director really makes it difficult because while Lee didn’t directly cause the tragedy that estranges him and his wife, there is a moment where he could have prevented this. While the beginning of the movie progresses in modern time, in around the second scene, we learn that Lee’s brother, Joe, has died from congestive heart failure, which we learn about in the beginning from flashbacks. The main plot begins when Lee gets a call about his brother’s imminent death and drives to the hospital in Manchester by the Sea, the town after which the movie bears its name, to see his brother at the hospital who has passed on the drive over.

That is the basic part of the plot that you could learn on Google–the plot that I can tell without spoiling the parts of the movie that really stir sadness and wrench emotion. This movie is the third movie from writer and director Kenneth Logeran, who made the well-received Margaret and the acclaimed You Can Count On Me. Logeran delivers a story that doesn’t give you what you want, but is all the better for it. We all have a certain ending in mind for a story that begins with a sad moment, but in real life, that isn’t always necessarily the case, and Logeran painfully displays that. And, while like with many movies, the end will probably leave much to desire for many, it’s a compromise of happiness and sadness that reflects what may often happen in the real world.

After his brother’s death, Lee is baffled that he is named Patrick’s guardian, saying his brother would have known he wouldn’t be right for it, and that he has a job in Boston and it would be unreasonable for him to come up there. In reality, Lee doesn’t want to confront the demons that still haunt him regarding his  wife and his split- up, and the fresh wound of his nearly estranged brother’s death. The request for Lee to move up to Manchester by the Sea is the sole argument between him and Patrick that reoccurs different scenes of the movie. Patrick cites Lee’s being a janitor and pitifully compares that with the importance of his own  life which includes two girlfriends (yes), many friends, band, and hockey team. This argument is often how Patrick (Lucas Hedges) delays coping with the real, hard facts that his father no longer participates on the same plane of existence as him.

This movie is being touted as Casey Affleck’s comeback and a possible best actor nomination The great performances from Michelle Williams, who plays Lee’s wife ,and Lucas Hedges are not to be forgotten. Lucas Hedges’ father and his grandfather, Peter Hedges (scribe of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) have known Logeran since Lucas was just a little boy. Hedges has given great performances in all his roles, most noticeably as an eccentric, trigger-happy boy scout in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

In its essence, Manchester by the Sea is a conundrum. Some say it’s incredibly sad, but not gripping enough, and some people share the MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) opinion that it’s by far the best movie of 2016. My verdict is that Manchester by the Sea is in its most natural form, life.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars


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