by Lash

A heavy dose of heart-wrenching scenes with a light sprinkling of humour, Manchester By The Sea will leave you frayed with emotions at the end.

Manchester By The Sea

Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a stoic-faced janitor and handyman in Quincy, Massachusetts. He is joyless, friendless and lives a lifeless existence, except when he picks fights with his clients or get into trouble at the bar. You can then witness the seething anger that he can barely contain, lending you to think if he is harbouring a tortured past. You’ll have to keep wondering what, because the mystery is only revealed midway through the show, although there are hints and teases to keep you guessing.

Lee wasn’t always this sad state of walking zombie; he’s had some fun times with his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), young nephew Patrick and wife Randi (Michelle Williams) before. We know this because the movie is peppered with flashbacks of happier times throughout, which actually confuses more than clarifies; they come and go without indication, leaving you to wonder if it’s present or past.

In present day, Lee’s life in Quincy comes to a halt with a phone call from the hospital. His brother, Joe, has passed on, and he has to make a trip back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, an almost dreary looking seaside town in the thick of winter, for Joe’s funeral arrangements. You can tell that Lee escaped the town from something, he looks anguished upon returning, and it doesn’t help with the whispers and hushed talks from the townsfolk about him.

Upon Joe’s death, Lee is made the guardian of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), now a strapping 16-year old popular high school kid, much to his despair. The pair of reluctant guardian and angry teenager goes on a bumpy path of discovery, and soon we find out why Lee was so unwilling to be Patrick’s custodian. A tragedy with his ex-wife Randi some years back has destroyed his marriage, broke apart his family and turned him into a forlorn wreck. He wants no further responsibility upon him, in case he f**ks everything up, again. It’s a revelation that will leave you silently welling up tears and sympathise with Lee.

Casey Affleck brings a subtlety to Lee’s tortured soul. He initially seems angry at the world, but as the movie progresses, you’ll discover he’s mad with himself instead. Affleck walked away with the Best Actor Award at the 89th Academy Awards and Golden Globes, while director and writer Kenneth Lonergan won for Best Original Screenplay. Michelle Williams, although with limited screen time (less than 12 minutes), gives a scene-stealing performance opposite Affleck that got her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars; Randi and Lee had bumped into each other on the street, and she turns from mildly awkward into full-blown heart-broken, bringing you along on her sorrowful ride.

Manchester By The Sea is the little film that could. Produced with a modest budget of USD 8.5 million, it turned in an impressive USD 75 million, along with a total of 66 awards (including two Oscars, one Golden Globes, two BAFTA, three Critics Choice).

The movie was a brainchild of Matt Damon and John Krasinski (who is also Emily Blunt’s husband), the pair formed the idea on the set of The Adjustment Bureau, and approached Lonergan to pen the film. “I liked the idea of someone in that situation who has lost his family,” Lonergan says. “It seemed very poignant to me, and very moving. And the idea that he still has to take care of his brother’s family, and that his brother took care of him when he was in trouble.”

The movie’s screenplay was actually in 2014’s Black List movies (a list of favourite but unmade scripts in a yearly compilation. Read more about Black List movies here). Damon himself was supposed to direct and play Lee, but scheduling conflicts led him to bow out and make way for Affleck to act and Lonergan to direct. Playing the director role definitely helps Lonergan draw out the emotions he’d penned in his screenplay, and he does it in a convincing manner, making Manchester By The Sea relatable to the audience, pulling them deeper and increasingly invested in each of the character’s torment.  Watch it with a box of tissues by your side, you’re gonna need it.

If you think the name of the town Manchester-by-the-Sea is weird, you’re not the only one. The residents do too. Based on a real town with its real name, this seaside town was called Manchester up to 1989. A resident led an aggressive campaign to change it to its current moniker, and succeeded. He claimed that its original name was boring and unbefitting of the uniqueness of the community. Except that when the legislature approved it, none of the community took to the name, and refuse to say it, until the success of this movie. The only difference between the reel and real town is that unlike being a dreary working-class, blue-collar town portrayed in the movie, Manchester-by-the-Sea is actually an upscale and affluent community.

Here's how the real Manchester-by-the-Sea looks like: