Watch Manchester by the Sea. I feel comfortable making such a bold demand because I can confidently place this movie “up there” on a mental list of fascinating films.
If you’re the kind of person that prefers to go into a movie without prior knowledge and opinions to taint your thoughts, then stop right here.
Alright, you’ve been warned. Here goes!
Turns out that I am unsure where to start because of all the sub-themes and emotions buried in the layers of this film.
Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a taciturn Bostonian custodian who gives off an initially funky vibe. The first few minutes of the movie are mostly silent: Lee shovels snow, Lee watches TV alone, Lee goes to a local bar, Lee gets in a fist fight at the bar.
What is this guy’s deal?
Lee’s backstory is revealed in the peppering of back-flash snippets during the two-hour stretch. Yeah, I quickly changed my mind about him.
Unrestrained display of raw moments lends this film its poignant emotional punch. There is no shying away from showing agonizingly awkward silences between uncle and nephew or panic attacks induced by frozen meat.
I’m no expert but I think it’s safe to suggest that Michelle Williams qualifies for an Oscar nomination. The scene in which she encounters Lee near a general store parking lot left me speechless.
At several points in the film, Lee is shown driving quietly alone. There’s nothing to it. Nothing interesting happens; he just drives and occasionally uses the turn signal.
Such familiar slowness reminds me of French film style. Perhaps this could annoy an impatient viewer, or make the film seem unnecessarily drawn out. But I appreciate these scenes because it makes the story seem more down to earth. Ordinary people don’t simply cut from one location to the other, driving must happen in between. It provides for a more fluid narrative.
So I have to disagree with critic David Eldestein, who calls the film draining (but also worth seeing). The slowness is actually refreshing. Lee still goes through the daily motions of life. And quite frankly it helped me relax between intervals of such intense emotional tension. These moments coupled with Patrick’s comic teenage shenanigans keep the movie fresh and lively despite the dark subject matter.
I am far more in sync with the Chicago Sun-Times’s claim, “What a miracle of a film. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan delivers the cinematic equivalent of a great American novel. Casy Affleck and Michelle Williams give career-best performances… If this film receives anything fewer than 10 Oscar nominations, it’s an injustice.”
Again with the French film style, the movie ends with an indefinite resolution. Gosh, everything about this movie is frustrating yet genius at once.
I juggle with my interpretations of some characters- Lee, Randi, and Patrick in particular. I was so quick to make judgement calls about them. He’s insensitive, she’s uptight. The film progressed to unravel their stories that shattered by initial judgements. I was proven gravely wrong about each character with each new bit of information revealed about them. I took this is a lesson I should apply beyond the movie.
I think I’ve decided on the “meaning” of this film; but I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow, and then change my mind again the day after that.
This is exactly what constitutes a masterpiece though. It sticks with you long after you’re no longer in its presence.
So please, in case I have not made myself clear: watch. the. movie.