Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor in Boston. His life is pretty mundane. He doesn’t say much, he does his job and stays to himself. When one of his tenants frustrates him he curses at her and she reports him. Later that night in bar, her gets drunk and starts a fight with two guys sitting across from him for looking at him funny. Lee Chandler is a troubled guy.
Manchester By the Sea is a little seaside town in Massachusetts where Lee Chandler comes from. When he gets a call that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack he rushes home. By the time he arrives, his brother has already died and Lee quickly moves to handle things and to look after his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee left this place for a reason and the film is about his facing the past and trying to move forward while also doing right by his nephew.
Lee is like Marley’s ghost walking amongst the living in his hometown. Some are happy to see him while some want nothing to do with him. He wants nothing more than to get back to Boston and away from the scene of his ‘crimes’. But Lee carries his guilt wherever he goes. He can’t escape himself and he can’t let anyone in. His ex wife Randi (Michelle Williams) tries to reconnect with him but he can’t. His nephew comes to understand why he’s so tortured but even still cannot help him.
Manchester By The Sea is a highly emotional film. I’m getting teary eyed thinking about it now and writing this. It’s rare when a film can affect you this way. I’m glad for it. This is not to say that the film is all about sadness, either. There is a lot of humor in this film as well. It’s about life and life has both. A lot of credit goes to Kenneth Lonergan who has written a wonderful script as well as directed the film beautifully. The film is poetic. The flashback scenes are well handled and flow easily into the action of the story.
The performances are also amazing. This is certainly Casey Affleck’s best performance. His performance feels like a lump in your throat that won’t go away. Lee seems to hold on to his pain like a shield and whenever he starts to feel a hint of happiness or relief his raises his shield and fends it off. Michelle Williams is not onscreen very much but when she is she’s heartbreaking. Lucas Hedges is fine as Patrick, Paddy, trying to go on stoically but masking his pain by just trying to keep himself busy and not thinking too much. Kyle Chandler is strong as Lee’s brother, Joe, who we see in flashbacks.
It is an emotionally challenging film but that shouldn’t scare you. You should welcome a film that can stir your emotions like this one does. It’s a lovely film and you’ll feel very satisfied you made time to experience it.