‘Manchester by the Sea’ Emotionally-Layered and Darkly Amusing

manchester_by_the_seaWell Casey Affleck may not be as cool or Batman-y as his older brother Ben, but he’ll be able to hold a Best Actor Oscar over him once awards season wraps up…

“Manchester by the Sea” stars Affleck as a Boston janitor who becomes the guardian of his nephew after the death of his brother. Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams also star as Kenneth Lonergan writes and directs.

2016 has been rough. Arguably, it was the weakest in mainstream cinema’s history, full of blockbuster busts and disappointing sequels. So here comes an indie film that has been talked about quite literally all year long since premiering at Sundance in January and thanks to great performances and a wonderfully uncomfortable script, it is one of the best films of 2016.

I’ll start by talking about the acting, because it is top-notch across the board. Casey Affleck is calm and reclusive in his role as Lee, a man who early on gets a call that his brother has passed away from a heart attack and he must drive to Manchester to get his affairs in order. Shown in flashbacks, Kyle Chandler is sympathetic and warm as Lee’s brother and we see the impact he had on his family. Michelle Williams gives the most “Oscar bait” performance, crying scene and all, but that doesn’t take away from its impact.

The real star, and my favorite aspect of the entire film, is the work by Lucas Hedges, who plays Chandler’s teenage son. Hedges is darkly comedic and seems relatively unaffected by the death of his father, however as the film goes along we see the reality of the situation begin to wear on him. Hedges’ character is the most entertaining and his performance arguably the most layered and I cannot wait to see him in more things.

Lonergan’s script combines humor, drama and tragedy, sometimes featuring all three in the same scene. It all just feels like real life and none of it contrived, and there are some fantastic bits of dialogue throughout.

The biggest flaws with the film come with its pacing, particularly in the third act. While some may argue the first act takes a while to find its footing, I personally wasn’t bothered by that so much as much as the repetitive final 30 minutes. Affleck and Hedges have several arguments about where they are going to live, Affleck deals with some personal issues and it all does drag along, especially since it is being delivered through the reclusive eyes of Affleck.

Slow third act aside, “Manchester by the Sea” is still one of the best films of 2016 and one of those films that just feel genuine, even though its characters go through things that a lot of people won’t be able to personally relate to. Despite at times being intentionally awkward and depressing, I enjoyed watching most every minute of it and implore you to do the same.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios

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