The landscape in Manchester by the Sea is as much a character as are any of the actors. Taking place on the Eastern seaboard, we accompany the cast through the seasons, the dead of winter to the hopefulness of early spring. We watch as the family’s boat, the Claudia Marie chugs out to sea. The quaint town where close-knit families live and grow and die is a part of the story.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is living in Boston, working as a handyman in an apartment building, when he hears the news that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away. He travels to Manchester and thus begins a journey of coming home to the town of his childhood and early adulthood.
Joe has left behind a teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and has given Lee guardianship. This is problematic for Lee who doesn’t really want to be in Manchester due to the ghosts of memories that haunt him. Lee has suffered through tragedy so extreme, I’m kind of surprised he managed to stay alive. But he rises to the mandate of his brother and sets into motion actions that will keep Patrick safe.
Randi Chandler (Michelle Williams), Lee’s ex-wife, enters the scene as she attends Joe’s memorial service and later the funeral. This couple’s shared tragedy is so horrific, and yet their scene together where Randi tries to heal from it with Lee is so touching, and the best acting in the whole film.
The contrast between Patrick and Lee in how the death of their father and brother is handled is quite distinct. Patrick has the hope and dreams of a young man, whereas Lee has given up hope and has settled for a marginalized sort of existence, isolated from others. Will Patrick help to move Lee towards reengaging with society? With his small circle of family and friends? You will have to see it for yourself.
This film is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. It won Best Actor for Casey Affleck, and Best Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.
The film moves through every detail of Lee dealing with arrangements after Joe’s death. Thoughtful and sparing us nothing, it shows the grief and stress that go along with a sudden death. Even if you know it’s coming, you’re never prepared for when it actually happens and someone suddenly vanishes from your life.
When I saw the film, I knew why Casey Affleck was nominated, as well as Michelle Williams. Their performances were spot on, and they managed to make it seem like they weren't even acting; it was so natural and real. Lucas Hedges gave an excellent performance in his role as well. He has a good future ahead of him. I recommend you see Manchester by the Sea. It is a story that is well written and painfully real.