Late this afternoon, as thunder rumbled and rain pelted the windows, I had the pleasure of watching movie number three on my list of Best Picture nominated films. I was especially interested in this movie because Manchester by the Sea was the first film distributed by a streaming service…in this case Amazon…to ever be nominated in the best picture category.
Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this drama is rated R for strong language and sexuality and has a run time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Hedges and Best Supporting Actress for Williams. It won twice, with Casey earning Best Actor, and with an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
Lee Chandler (Affleck) returns home to Manchester after receiving word that his brother Joe (Chandler) has died. Long estranged from his family and the community he grew up in, Lee intends to settle his brother’s affairs and be back in Boston in a week.
Plans unravel when he learns that Joe made Lee sole guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (Hedges). At a loss about how to reconnect with his nephew, Lee struggles with this overwhelming responsibility. As he attempts to help Patrick through his loss, Lee finds being in Manchester brings him face to face with painful reminders of his past, including his ex-wife Randi (Williams).
Can Lee find healing near the sea as he fights his personal demons, or will he continue to flee?
Manchester by the Sea is a frank and gritty look at life when the journey is impacted by horrific tragedy. Casey Affleck offers one of the most moving and honest portrayals of a broken man that I have ever seen in a film, and deserved his Oscar. I lost count of the number of times my eyes filled with tears.
Although it has been described as a depressing movie, I have to disagree. Manchester by the Sea certainly delivers an emotional punch, yet it feels so authentic, so realistic, that it creates an empathetic ache around the heart.
This film is a glimpse into a life suspended by pain and given over to resignation. Lee embodies a journey interrupted and the choice to withdraw from the flow of life and instead watch it pass him by. He gets by, far from being able to offer anything to anyone, simply waiting for his existence to be over.
And yet.. and yet…life continually offers the chance to re-engage, to heal, to truly live again. And so it is with Lee. His heart has been so barricaded against feeling anything. The one person who might be able to chip away at the wall is his nephew, who in dealing with his loss, just wants everything to stay normal and remain the same.
Manchester by the Sea refuses to allow a love interest or a friend to rescue Lee, and I appreciated that. This is very much a man’s solitary journey and ultimately, the only person who can save Lee, is Lee.
Don’t expect a traditional transformation or neatly framed happy ending. Instead, treasure the small shifts, the stirrings, the bits of thawing around a heart frozen by grief and guilt. Manchester by the Sea doesn’t so much warm the soul as it shines a light into the dark regions of it and offers hope.
This Best Picture nominated film is worth a thoughtful viewing. Well done, Amazon. I am grateful for the amazing vision of this company, and I look forward to seeing what they offer next.
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