One thought was going through my head as I was leaving “Manchester by the Sea” – Boy, that sure was sad. And it would have been a lot happier if he actually talked about how he was feeling. The first thing my parents said to me as they were leaving the theater was, “When you have a wife, talk to her about your problems. Communication is key! You don’t want to end up like Casey Affleck.”
As I am writing this review, I have recently finished writing my thoughts on “Hidden Figures” and “The Pink Panther,” both of which left a positive impact on my in one way or another. But because “Manchester by the Sea” was such a sad-sack from start to finish, the film means almost nothing to me. It was certainly well put together and Casey Affleck gives one of the most captivating performance of the year, but there no hope to hold on to, no joy to be had. Even “Hacksaw Ridge” at least had a good moral about fighting for what you believe in despite what everyone else might tell you or force on you, and that was a gruesome war flick.
But “Manchester by the Sea” is sad for the sake of being sad, to the point where it is almost depressing. Its main character certainly goes through a difficult journey that I sympathize with, but he is given every opportunity to improve and he refuses to take it like a stubborn child who doesn’t want to eat his vegetables.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor and handy-man at a series of apartment complexes in Boston. Lee is unfriendly towards the tenants and obnoxious to everyone else, picking a fight with someone who might look at him the wrong way. When Lee finds out his brother (Kyle Chandler) has passed away, leaving his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) all alone in Manchester, Lee does his best help Patrick settle in, despite having to deal with harsh looks and whispers of Manchester about Lee’s past.
Casey Affleck is one of the more underrated actors, but I can see why. He usually gives performances that are quieter in his tone, more about the subtlety and facial expression than what he’s saying (which might explain why most of his performance goes over my head). But that quality is what makes him perfect for this role, as a man trying to mask his pain and cannot deal with world when he can hardly handle himself. Affleck is in every scene of this movie, and he plays Lee as a man sitting on anger, ready to burst at a moments’ notice and doesn’t seem to know anything but anger.
My biggest complaint with “Manchester by the Sea” is that Lee never moves beyond this point. Anger is his default emotion and despite what happens between him and Patrick, the journey these two go through, he seems to have learned nothing. Even though he’s clearly in a lot of pain, Lee refuses to talk about his feelings like a normal person would. This would be fine if Lee gave a reason outside of “I don’t want to talk about it,” but that’s the most we get.
I am left in this strange place where I sympathize with Lee due to his past and Afflecks’ performance, but I don’t relate to him because of his inability to communicate, even with his loved ones. There are so many scenes that are infuriating, because they offer Lee and Patrick plenty of opportunities to talk about their pasts and the future they could share, but is instead filled with awkward silence.
Overall, I appreciate what “Manchester by the Sea” was going for and enjoyed Afflecks’ performance, but this was slow, poorly-paced and frustrating to watch. If a scene wasn’t about Lee refusing to change, it was about awkward moments of Lee’s lack of social skills. The only reason to watch this one is for Casey Affleck’s acting, which does elevate the film above its sad story.
Final Grade: C