“Manchester by the Sea” is a melancholy film, but in spite of the tragedy that it portrays it’s still an entertaining and even heart-warming experience in its own way. After seeing the first trailer I was expecting something similar to “Raising Helen”, a film in which a woman reluctantly takes guardianship of her sister’s children when she passes away. On premise alone the films are strikingly similar, but in reality “Manchester by the Sea” is a much more polished and thoughtful film and it resonated with me in a more meaningful way.
On the surface “Manchester by the Sea” may seem as though it’s about accepting responsibility and responding to adversity, as Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has to take care of his nephew when his brother passes away, but whilst it touches on these themes it doesn’t dwell on them. It’s an honest depiction of how people attempt to cope with loss, grief, and guilt, and it steers clear of melodrama as much as it possibly can. “Manchester by the Sea” is actually about how there are some things that we just can’t come back from, no matter how badly we want to move on; it’s about giving up, going through the motions, and being a passenger in your own life.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy this film probably depends on what you’re looking for when it comes to entertainment, because if you want escapism and to leave the theatre with a smile on your face then this one isn’t for you. It’s a difficult watch because the story is extremely bleak and it’s easy to get sucked in by the performances so much so that you forget that you’re watching a film. However, if you can cope with the nature of the film “Manchester by the Sea” is genuinely exceptional. It boasts great performances, a fitting score, intelligent direction, and a contained story in which plot points are revealed at perfect junctures to keep the audience invested and enhance the characters, and despite slow pacing it doesn’t drag at all.
I have to be honest and say that although this film is harrowing at times, it didn’t actually make me sad. That might seem morbid and could be construed as a criticism, but in a strange way this film made me feel good about life. The things that happen to Lee are horrible and cruel; they’re things that nobody should have to live with and a lot of people simply wouldn’t be able to, but to know that that kind of pain is possible in life is a victory in itself. It means that there are things you can lose that are worth having in the first place, which is abundantly clear in Casey Affleck’s understated performance. You feel that Lee is holding himself together so tightly because he knows that one wrong move could see him fall apart, and yet he keeps going anyway and tries to do what’s right for those around him.
In my opinion this really is a stunning film. It won’t appeal to everyone because it’s a simple story and there are parts of the film which are less interesting than others, such as when Patrick (Lee’s nephew played by Lucas Hedges) goes to visit his mother and her new religious fiancé, but it will definitely find its way into my DVD collection when it gets released later this year and I hope that Casey Affleck wins an Oscar for his performance.