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Bishops Castle Film Society

Manchester by the Sea - 24th Jan 2018

Kenneth Lonergan, US, 2016, 137m

The painful and irreparable wrongness of life is the theme of Kenneth Lonergan’s superbly acted new film about grief. It stars Casey Affleck as Lee, a guy who lives on his own in Boston, working as a janitor and seething with poisonous rage at the world and himself. Lee returns to his hometown after the death of his brother Joe to find to his astonishment that he is now legal guardian of Joe’s teenage son, Patrick.
This is about life as it is lived in the real world, with unassuageable pain, loose ends untied, life lessons unlearned. Life with no narrative closure. Lee bears the burden of a terrible tragedy, which explains his exile from the place where he grew up; the current situation appears to offer the familiar trope of an unsympathetic guy poignantly redeemed by the responsibility of parenthood and odd-couple friendship with the quasi-child. Yet things don’t work out anywhere near as cleanly as that.
This film has already been hailed as a masterpiece and I think it is . . .   [It] sees [Lonergan] assume the self-aware weightiness of an Arthur Miller or a Eugene O’Neill, but blends this with some wonderfully played comic scenes, and even uses some trad jazz over a scene transition that is rather like Woody Allen. And as in Seinfeld, there is no hugging or learning.
Hedges gives a glorious performance as Patrick, the teenager who finds that tricky Uncle Lee is now his dad. He is a mixture of vulnerable, clueless and precociously worldly. When Lee shows up in the town to tell Patrick that his dad is dead, it is as if he is making a reckoning with a younger, freer version of himself.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian 12 January 2017


That Manchester By The Sea is so absorbing is down to Lonergan’s painstaking directorial style and to a superb Method-style performance from the lead actor.
As Lee, Affleck doesn’t get many great soliloquies in which to express his feelings. Much of his time on screen is spent shovelling snow, fixing blocked drains or sitting in offices, listening to doctors, bosses or policemen, all invariably telling him the worst. There is nothing remotely charming about him. His idea of recreation is propping up a bar, drinking as much beer as he can and then slugging anyone who has the temerity to look at him.
It’s typical of Lonergan’s approach that the most intense moment in the movie – the chance encounter between Lee and his now-remarried ex-wife – is so inconclusive. Earlier in the movie, after the accident which has ruined their lives, she is shown recoiling at his slightest touch. It’s a testament to Michelle Williams’ ability that she’s able to bring such complexity to her role as Randi even though she’s only on screen for a few minutes.
Somehow, over a couple of minutes, standing on a street behind a park, she manages to show us her character’s humour, fieriness, her sense of yearning and heartbreak, her vengeful feelings and her pity for Lee.
Geoffrey Macnab Independent 11 January 2017



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