Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is well-crafted, superbly acted film for grown-ups.
Beat Itby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Manchester by the Sea is an actors’ film, a searing study of grief and family dysfunction. Casey Affleck is Lee, a man who is morose and prone to sudden violence, clearly haunted by the tragedy caused by a single mistake he made and which made him leave his small-town New England fishing community, where he ran a boat-hire business with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), who is separated from his alcoholic wife. When Joe dies suddenly, Lee is appointed guardian of his 16-year-old babe-magnet son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and in order to fulfil his responsibility has to return and confront the past. Continuing flashbacks that interlock with the continuing action eventually bring us closer to the awful event and understanding why it has had the effect it had on Lee, his family and the whole town. We see the happy, fun-loving family man he used to be, in contrast to the shell he is now, and how Michelle Williams is broken as Lee’s ex-wife, still living in the town. Lee’s only support seems to be the family friend George (CJ Wilson), who worked with him and his brother on the boat, the Claudia Marie, Lee and Joe’s mother’s name.
Lee and Patrick are forced together by Joe’s death and the relationship imposed by his will, both trying to deal with their grief in their own way. Gradually despite their opposing views of how their lives should be from now on, their uneasy, jokey relationship deepens, expressed symbolically by director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count On Me). This slice of life may be grim but is it also leavened by occasional humour that breaks through like the promise of sunshine. There’s some kind of resolution for both of them – deciding whether to repair the boat, bouncing a ball – but ultimately, as in real life, there may be no cop-out easy answer.
Manchester by the Sea screens on 8, 9 and 11 October at the BFI London Film Festival, where it receives its European Premiere.