Saturday 4 February 2017

Manchester By The Sea ... Honest, gritty depiction of grief

THE protagonist in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s mostly all-white film Manchester By The
Sea  is quiet, abrasive and prone to bouts of violence.
   He lives alone in a tiny room while working as a janitor/handyman in a few  buildings. He’s proficient at his task and he’s a fly on the wall, privy to residents’ conversations while he goes about his job. It could be that he’s invisible to others.
   He’s lost interest in women and has a short fuse.

    But underneath the rough appearance lies a melancholic character that’s hiding something, probably a certain pain.
   Casey Affleck digs deep to portray the haunted soul of Lee Chandler, and it’s to his immense credit that viewers look beyond his salty veneer and fix their eyes on his expressive blue eyes.
   Things weren’t always like this for Lee. Viewers see him enjoying his three kids and flirting with his beautiful blonde wife Randi (Michelle Williams). He was gregarious and open with them.
Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges express
their grief in different ways.
   His brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies and leaves the guardianship of his son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), 16, to him.
   Lonergan shows Lee struggling to live in the present and how the past catches up with him. Viewers are invested in finding out how a loving family man became a recluse unclogging toilet bowls.
  There are long takes in this beautifully photographed film set in coastal town Manchester in Massachusetts.
   Lonergan gives his actors time to spread their wings; the pace is slow and fluid. The music is a mix of classical, choral, jazz and Broadway tunes.
  The film is set in winter, and in one scene, Lee and Patrick have to turn their backs to a blast of chilly wind. The winter setting suggests Lee is frozen in time and that it may be hard for anything to thaw him out.
    Patrick’s relationship with Lee forms the core of this film. Lee wants to return to Boston but he’s
Michelle Williams is messy and sexy.
torn between respecting his brother’s last wish and taking care of Patrick.
  Patrick’s way of dealing with his father’s death is unusual: he moves between his two girlfriends.
   In one scene, he cajoles Lee to spend time with a girlfriend’s mother at their house so he can fornicate with the daughter without interruption.    He tells his uncle that his girlfriend’s mum likes the latter.  “This can be good for both of us.”
    Lee's history is revealed in an encounter between Lee and his ex-wife, who is pushing a stroller with a baby in it, in a Manchester backstreet, which is perfect since there are no distractions.
    Williams doesn’t appear much in the film, but she kills this scene, and this is why she got nominated for an Oscar Best Supporting Actress award.
(spoilers ahead)
   Williams and Affleck’s body language, facial expressions and vocal tones are perfect in this scene.    Randi and Lee express regrets. She says: “I’m heartbroken, and I know you are too.”
   He says: “There’s nothing there.” It’s a simple statement that carries so much weight.
Kyle Chandler comforts Affleck.
   The film is full of details: Lee has phone problems speaking to someone while driving to Manchester. Two hospital staff have difficulty pushing a stretcher into an ambulance. Someone’s handphone rings during a funeral mass.
   Lonergan’s depiction of how blue-collar white men deal with grief is touching and natural. I started wondering how I’d deal with such a situation if I were in Lee’s shoes.

5 out of 5 stars

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