Manchester By The Sea, as with La La Land last night, is another movie that’s been heavily lavished with five star praise yet the trailer didn’t really have anything that drew me to want to see it. I love nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised by a movie though, so once again I went in sceptical and hoping to be proven wrong.
Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, living out a lonely existence as janitor for four buildings in the town of Quincy, barely engaging in conversation with the people he’s working for and seemingly struggling with his own existence. He politely refuses advances from one female tenant, snaps at another that gets irritated at him over a plumbing problem and gets drunk and starts a fight in a bar. He’s clearly in a bad place. And then he gets a call which sees him rush back to his hometown, 30 miles from Quincy. His brother has been taken into hospital, something which has happened a few times before due to a heart condition he developed, only this time he hasn’t survived. Lee awkwardly deals with the doctors and old friends, but then he has the task of breaking the bad news to his nephew and trying to deal with the aftermath, all the while being somewhere and in a situation he’s clearly not comfortable with.
What happened in the past slowly trickles into the movie right from the start. In the opening scene we see Lee, his brother Joe and his nephew Patrick all laughing and joking out at sea on the family boat. A little later on we see Lee with a wife and young family, happy and carefree. In present day people are referring to him as “The Lee Chandler”, as though he’s well known for some big event in the town. It’s clear that something major happened in this guys life which completely broke him and made him want to move away.
Lee discovers that his brother has made him guardian for Patrick in his will, providing him an allowance in order to move back home and take care of him. This is something that Lee isn’t comfortable with. We continue to be drip-fed snippets of the past which begin to help us understand the kind of man Lee is now and why he feels the way he does. And then about halfway into the movie, the source of his torment is revealed. An unimaginable tragedy and everything immediately begins to make sense.
Lee continues to deal with funeral arrangements and the responsibility of a teenage boy who has two girlfriends and needs driving to band practice regularly. Lee doesn’t want to stay in his hometown, Patrick doesn’t want to leave it. They need to try and make things work.
The last movie I saw Casey Affleck in was the awful Triple 9 but in this he is amazing. His character has so much bottled up emotion which he desperately tries to hide, but there are some surprisingly funny moments to be found too from some of the awkward conversations he has with others. Michelle Williams plays his wife, and isn’t in the movie as much as the trailer/poster would have you believe. However, the scenes featuring her are powerful and emotional – everyone in this movie is incredible.
Unfortunately, the whole thing is about half an hour too long and spends a lot of time meandering along with not much happening at all. But when it’s at it’s best, it really packs an emotional punch. I just wish I’d seen this movie before seeing La La Land so that I could be depressed and then happy, rather than the other way around!