I’m back again, racing frantically to catch up with all the reviews I haven’t been writing. Today, I’m here to talk about one of the most talked about films in the Oscar race – Manchester by the Sea. Granted, most of the talking has been due to the controversies surrounding star Casey Affleck, but more about that later.
This film has earned Oscar nominations for most of the cast and crew, and even a Best Picture nomination and when you watch the film – it shows. People talk about Oscar bait, and this is probably a prime example. Watchable, well-acted, even gripping at times, but definitely made with an eye on the Academy voters rather than a general audience.
The film follows Lee Chandler, a very broken man with a backstory full of tragedy and heartbreak currently living as a janitor in a run down apartment block in Boston (it stars an Affleck, of course it’s in Boston), with only crippling depression for company. When Lee’s brother, Joe, dies of heart failure, Lee is summoned back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to deal with the affairs and to become guardian of Joe’s teenaged son Patrick. But Lee finds himself afraid to connect with others again, and battles his emotions to try and be the best guardian for his nephew that he can be.
As you can see, it seems to have taken inspiration from the lyrics of a country-and-western song.
Ohhhhh, my wife has died
And my dog has left me
For a younger auto-mobile
It is the acting that is the real strength of this movie, and it benefits greatly from 3 outstanding performances in the lead roles. Affleck, as Lee Chandler, is an outstanding actor, and he deserves his front-runner status in the Best Actor race (regardless of what you think of him as a human being, and if some of the allegations against him wind up being true then I agree he’s probably horrible, it’s not an award for the Best Behaved Actor or Nicest Actor, it’s Best Actor, and Casey was easily one of the best of the year).
Alongside him are other Oscar nominated roles from the always outstanding Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, and up-and-comer Lucas Hedges as Patrick. Both bring a lot of gravitas and add some extra flavour to the dour world that Lee exists in. The film boast a solid supporting cast as well, featuring the likes of Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson, Gretchen Mol, Kara Hayward and Matthew Broderick.
But the acting is put in an incredibly depressing film. And I don’t mean depressing in the way that The Green Mile or Million Dollar Baby enter depressing subject matter that end up leaving the audience in tears. This film is just bombarding you with horrid events and heartwrenching drama to the point that the audience is left feeling numb, rather than leaving them with any real lasting feeling. It’s basically A Series of Unfortunate Events without the wry humour (or any humour), over-the-top characters or Count Olaf. Just the Unfortunate Events.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually an advocate for films that don’t use Jim Carrey, but in this case…..
Now, despite this, this isn’t a bad movie. It just isn’t fantastic, in the way that you’d hope a Best Picture nominee would be. In fact, the early scenes are quite heartwrenching in the way I suspect director/writer Kenneth Lonergan thought the entire film would be. It’s just a bit too much at the end. Maybe if you’re a fan of melodramas this movie will have more resonance. And the acting is undeniably top-shelf. It just doesn’t gel in the way that I suspect it could have.
3.6/5 – A movie that could have been great with a bit more restraint, but ends up being just a good film.