With the prominent rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the resurgence of Star Wars films on our screens, it’s often difficult to find a film on the cinema listings that offers an authentic depiction of real life. But like a diamond in the rough amongst attempts to save the world or destroy the Death Star is Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, a film that captures real life so accurately that it will break your heart and make you laugh out loud in equal measure.
Manchester by the Sea opens with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) as they embark on a deep-sea fishing trip with Joe’s young son, Patrick. As we move into the present it becomes evidently clear that something has affected Lee deeply. He is now a lonely handy-man that spends his evenings getting into drunken bar-fights. But that all changes when Lee discovers that his brother has passed away, forcing him to move back to Manchester and take care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
The beauty of the film is found in the sometimes hilarious relationship between Lee and Patrick. The pair bicker with one another over almost everything, which makes for some laugh out loud moments, especially from Lucas Hedges, who’s delivery of lines are not only very real but also perfectly timed. Under the surface, however, this is a film about a man and a teenager who help one another to fight against overwhelming grief.
Whilst it might have been easy for the film to be a depressing tear-fest, Kenneth Lonergan manages to produce a story that is both desperately sad and incredibly uplifting. While Lee gets closer to Patrick he remains a man of isolation, which is portrayed by Casey Affleck in a way that never gets old or annoying, particularly in a scene where he has dinner with the mother of Patrick’s girlfriend. It’s so incredibly awkward yet believable in equal measure. In almost every scene you can feel the pain on Affleck’s face, which is a real showcase of his talents as an actor, and once it is revealed exactly what caused Lee to become so isolated, everything makes perfect sense.
Perhaps the only downfall of the film is its failure to integrate Lee’s relationship with his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) into the story. Though we see them as a happy couple in the past, and it’s clear that there are still strong feelings between them in the present, there is little resolution between the relationship of the characters. However, this is a film that’s supposed to portray real life, and that’s what it does. Manchester by the Sea is an honest expression of relationships, and sometimes the relationships we hope to be resolved don’t always get wrapped up in a pretty little bow.
If you’re drowning in the ever-growing list of franchises and cinematic universe’s, and you’re looking for a dose of real life in the cinema this month then add Manchester by the Sea to the top of your list. It’s not a film you’ll forget about in a hurry.