Review: ‘Manchester By The Sea’

As a biased Affleck-lover, I went into the theater expecting to be blown away by Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester By The Sea, and I was. He has already won the Gotham Award for Best Actor and is on his way to the Oscar. But the story, the emotions and the relationships portrayed in this film played a big part as well. 

Every film has its flaws, yes, and I can 100% say that Casey Affleck made this film, but I am a strong believer that a well-written piece of work can be played well by (nearly) any talented actor or actress. 

Manchester By The Sea is a very spoiler-able film, so I won’t get into the plot that much. The film is about a Boston man who returns to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts after his brother dies, to look after his nephew. During the first half hour of the film I was thinking, “This seems like a film that has been done a million times, yet I can’t think of one example. Why hasn’t this story been done?” As it turns out, once the film really beings to unfold, this story becomes so much more than what is on the surface, and it will break your heart. It is a sad story, something people do not want to acknowledge or talk about, but it is not done poorly.

That doesn’t mean you won’t laugh, because that is all I did. The writer and director, Kenneth Lonergan, has a background in theatre, and I think that’s a big reason why the dialogue in the film flowed so naturally. And the humor belongs; sure, the premise of the film is grief, but days, and years, after losing a loved one, don’t you find yourself laughing at something? Grief isn’t the end of the world, but you don’t need to feel guilty if you can’t let go of it, as this film teaches us.

You have to admit, plays and films are written very differently. What works in one won’t work in the other. As someone who has spent years in Massachusetts, the film resonated with me in a way that it may not with outside viewers—we just know the places and people a little better than others do. Sure, there are stereotypes about the attitudes Massachusetts natives have, but the film kept it real. Of course, the fact that Casey Affleck is a Boston boy himself didn’t hurt. 

Something I’ve been noticing more and more in the good films I’m watching nowadays is their focus on relationships. Maybe they’re being written better, or maybe I’m growing up and seeing the real world more and more in these films, but either way it deserves noticing. Manchester By The Sea is a 100 percent relationship-based film.

The main relationship is between Lee (Affleck) and his nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Critics have been saying that it’s a strained relationship, one between people who knew each other once, almost in a past life, but are trying to find their footing now. I disagree. Sure, they argue occasionally, but I continuously got the impression of two people who know each other so well that they don’t need to, or want to try. They’re not afraid to be themselves around each other. The main actors get the thrill of being regular people portraying regular people. 

While Manchester By The Sea is in the running for Best Picture, a win is still not set in stone. But one thing is for sure: Casey Affleck deserves Best Actor, and even the non-biased Affleck-lovers agree.