All I knew about this movie going in was that it was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and that it was apparently really, really, incredibly depressing. This characterisation does a great disservice to the film. It is certainly not “misery porn” like last year’s The Revenant, where more and more suffering and awfulness is heaped upon the protagonist to no real end but to garner the actor an Oscar.
Manchester by the Sea is certainly a heavy film. It explores profound questions on trauma, grief and guilt. But heaviness loses meaning without light, and Lonergan clearly understands this on an intrinsic level. The film has moments of levity, humor, even absurdity that move it forward and inform the narrative. At points the audience in my theater laughed out loud, which is more than can be said for some full-fledged comedies this year (I’m looking at you, Zoolander 2).
The characters are deeply authentic and deeply human, with all the complexity and contradictions that that implies.
The performances, particularly those from Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges (all off whom are nominated) are phenomenal. Unlike in Fences, discussed above, the acting disappears entirely into the character, allowing the audience to transcend mere voyeurism and truly experience catharsis.
I haven’t touched on half of what I’d like to say about this movie, but time and space run short, so I’ll leave off with this – this is a near-perfect film. That is not to say that it is the greatest movie ever made – rather that it knows very clearly what it is and what it wants to be, and it uses each piece of itself elegantly towards that end.
Verdict: Definitely see this film. But don’t make my mistake and plan a dinner with friends immediately after. This one takes a bit of time to work though, and they may end up thinking something’s gone horribly wrong in your life.
Prediction: Manchester by the Sea is nominated for Best Picture, Directing and Original Screenplay, while Casey Affleck is nominated for his Leading Role, and Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams are both nominated in their respective Supporting Roles. A win in any of these categories would be richly deserved, but I’m betting it will take home only Original Screenplay, beating out the (for some reason) frontrunner La La Land. William’s perfect 12 minutes of screen time in Manchester won’t overtake the full two hours of Acting from Viola Davis in Fences, and Hedges is in too competitive of a group to have a chance. Affleck could and should take the win, but I’m betting the Academy goes with Washington, although I would be ecstatic to be proved wrong in this case.