Review: Manchester By The Sea Is A Painful Depiction Of Real Grief
Title: Manchester by the Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Summary: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
There seems to be two types of movies that start to show up during the award season; movies that are supposed to make you feel better about the state of the rest of the world and movies that leave you depressed. I don’t mind a movie trying to make me cry but a lot of the time it all feels very superficial. T family-friendly members or pets are killed to illicit a reaction. Often times, by the end of the movie, the sadness is all gone and everyone feels better. There is a happy ending in a way that rarely is in real life. Manchester by the Sea looked very much like another movie that was going to superficially make everything better by the end.
Manchester by the Sea is an exception, a study in grief and how everyone deals with it in fundamentally different ways.
In a lot of ways Manchester by the Sea reminded me of a depressing and sober opposite of The Edge of Seventeen. While that movie looked at teenage sadness and isolation, it dealt with them in way that felt very real through comedy. Manchester by the Sea deals with grief in a very cold and distant way that is very much like the New England setting. We watch Lee, (Casey Affleck) go through motions that we’ve seen in movies a dozen times. This is a reluctant uncle who has to start taking care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). In a comedy version of this we would see these two working together through hijinks but instead we see the two of them fumble in a very different way.
The best scene in the movie is when Patrick has a breakdown in front of a freezer. He’s upset because the ground is too hard to bury his father and being in front of a freezer triggers a panic attack. Lee has no idea how to react to this. It’s the sort of thing that would be played for laughs in another movie but in this case it feels like a very real reaction. The most common thing I hear when I’m having a panic attack is “well, calm down” and Lee’s reaction is “if you’re going to have a breakdown every time you see frozen chicken then we need to do something about it.” It’s a reaction that I’ve seen and it’s one you can relate to instantly.
The driving force of the movie is the fact that we don’t know what has so fundamentally broken Lee and why he split up with his wife Randi, (Michelle Williams). The final reveal is devastating just like the rest of the movie but the thing that makes it feel very real is the way everyone else reacts. There is a confrontation with Lee and Randi where Randi is trying to make amends but Lee just can’t handle it. It’s another moment we’ve seen before but instead of embracing and forgiving each other, Lee runs. It makes for a movie is very relatable.
Manchester by the Sea is a little self important but that doesn’t mean it isn’t moving. The parts that hit hit very hard and I left with a sense of sadness that I couldn’t shake. I won’t spoil the ending but it was gut punching in how real it was.