Manchester by the Sea takes 137 minutes to tell an achingly simple story. Actors take long pauses on-screen to imply depth, but it just tests the viewers patience. Kenneth Longoan’s screenplay is structured in such a rambling style that the story becomes maudlin and overly self-important. Despite some interesting moments and an intriguing lead character, this film languishes and then dies before our eyes.
Set in the harsh winter of upper Massachusetts, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has returned to his home town to find that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a heart condition. To Lee’s surprise he’s informed that he is the legal guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The teenage boy welcomes his uncle’s presence in his life not knowing that Lee plans to move them back to Boston. This sets up the film’s central conflict between Lee and Patrick. So, the two struggle to find a way to deal with death, relocation, and past secrets that abound. Patrick’s mother (Gretchen Moll) attempts to pursued him to come stay with her and her new husband, but her son’s reappearance causes her to go back to her addiction fueled ways. Effectively closing their relationship for good. Michelle Williams is cast as Lee’s ex-wife, who is now pregnant and starting a new family.
Early word from awards season pundits has this heavy drama as a favorite in the big categories. Perhaps that positive buzz led me to expect something substantial from this meandering, introspective family tale. Casey Affleck is solid in the lead role. He’s one of the screens’ great brooders, but his measured approach to most scenes becomes numbing by the end. For all the critical grandstanding Manchester by the Sea is much ado about very little.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
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