While terribly, even hauntingly painful at times, Manchester by the Sea is also generously funny, which is rather odd given that it’s a film about grief, self–loathing, forgiveness and not–so–happy families.
The underrated, soft–spoken Casey Affleck (always so fine as quiet characters) won a Golden Globe as Lee Chandler, a loner janitor in chilly Boston whose life is a slightly masochistic mess as he unclogs drains, insults tenants and gets into drunken brawls with strangers. When he learns that his beloved brother Joe (Kyle Chandler in flashbacks) has died, Lee travels home to the coastal town of Manchester (or Manchester–by–the–sea in actuality) to help with the initial aftermath. He then discovers that Joe has named him as the guardian of high schooler Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and that he’s probably going to have to relocate – and, if he’s not careful, snap out of his guilty funk.
Patrick brings much hormonal teen chaos with him, and the scenes between him and Lee are sometimes surprisingly amusing, although the complex emotions that lie within are powerful and raw. But that’s nothing compared to what Lee must eventually face when he deals with Patrick’s former addict mum Elise (Gretchen Mol) and he’s contacted by his ex–wife Randi (Michelle Williams), so bright and sweet in flashbacks and now so tormented and anguished.
Oscar-nominated writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, however, is too sharp and cares too much about these characters to allow this to become hand–wringing melodrama, and his cast offer beautifully subtle performances, especially Chandler (gruffly lovely), Williams (in a very challenging role) and even Matthew Broderick in a cameo (he was in Lonergan’s début feature You Can Count On Me, another story about absent parents and tough sibling relationships).
However, this is really all about Lee, and while this Affleck brother has been somewhat overshadowed by his more famous brother, there’s no doubt that Casey is awfully good here, even if there are times that you almost want to punch him.
Rated M. Manchester by the Sea is in cinemas now.