Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey AffleckLucas Hedges, Ben O’Brien, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Tate Donovan, Matthew Broderick
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 20.10.2016

Lee (Casey Affleck) hasn’t been in his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea for a while and he doesn’t actually want to return. But when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies, leaving behind his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee is called upon to return and take care of Patrick. Added to the grief over Joe’s passing is Lee’s confrontation with the past and the horrible events that are linked to Manchester-by-the-Sea and Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams).

I saw Manchester by the Sea before the news about Affleck’s history of abuse hit the media (or at least reached me) (this review is based on my notes from October). If I had known, I probably would have reconsidered watching this film. But having seen it , I have to admit that it’s a strong film, offering an unusual perspective on an old story.

I wasn’t particularly surprised when it was finally revealed what actually happened in Lee’s past, but the story didn’t call for a surprise reaction, so it didn’t much matter. And that it wouldn’t be all fun and games, that much was clear from the get-go. For me, the new aspect that came from the story was that the story refuses to end happily. Because narratively we have an obsession with having everything end in a healing, but some things can’t be healed at all and for some things it’s not the right time. And then you still have to arrange yourself with your pain and grief and somehow manage to live your life, even if it’s a life with limits that many people probably won’t understand. (It’s also a film that may be haunted by the dead, but it’s all about the living and their coping. Even if that coping means going against the wishes of the dead.)

I do have some criticisms about the story – that Lee’s grief so easily turns into violence, for example, feels like more of an apology that it should; or that Lee’s and Patrick’s bonding ends up being at the cost of the girls Patrick is dating – and I definitely have to point out how much I hated the soundtrack – that choir music was overused and it felt like it was screaming at me most of the time – but other than that, Lonnergan managed to make a beautiful film.

And not only does he hit the right notes when it comes to the bad and heavy stuff, he doesn’t forget that we also need laughter every once in a while, too, so there are a couple of moments that actually made me laugh (although the audience around me some to laugh at more stuff than I did). Those shining moments just reinforce the – to me – central message of the film: life goes on, even after things happen that can’t be undone or forgiven.

It’s a beautiful, emotional film with strong performances that show a sensitivity towards people that is absolutely lovely in its acknowledgment of pain. It really is very much worth seeing.

Summarizing: wonderful.

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