Manchester By The Sea
It’s an odd phenomenon, falling in love with a character written for the screen. Odder too, to be crying for them, laughing at them, priding their achievement; scowling their shortcomings... You’re invested in the giving of many, the bit the writer’s and directors have given of themselves, and the crews perceptions of those things... When these people love what they do -- it rubs off, you're falling in love with the pieces they’ve shed. Something like that happens in Manchester By The Sea, the latest, great, American Drama.
It’s not cool by any means. It’s American, and as a drama, loud as ever. The drama reads huge on the screen, and its cast reads white as winter. It has movie stars playing purported Boston townies. Local guys who do well enough to get by and who could probably beat your busted engine or plumbery up just enough to start it up again. It also spotlights men, fathers, and their sons. Specifically, a brooding type named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), and you might wonder "What's Casey Affleck as Janitor/Mechanic got worth brooding over?"
Well, you’ll learn, and, be damned, you’ll be got. But it's not all Hollywood tradition on rails. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan injects the film with relatable randomness. Lee Chandler and his Nephew Patrick (A breakout Lucas Hedges) - essentially inherited from his recently deceased brother Joe (Kyle Chandler)- talk on their way back to their vehicle after talking logistics with a funeral home. But, after wandering a good deal in the cold Lee realizes they’ve headed in the wrong direction and can’t remember where they parked. It continues to follow them on their trek to find the van. This situation is not just a relatable occurrence, though, it’s relevant, and rhythms properly with the twos dramatic dynamic.
It is three things:
1.An example of Lonergan’s ability to conjure up relatable randomness that helps sell bigger dramatic set pieces.
2.An arc of pressure on the two’s discourse as they grow more impatient in the cold to find their vehicle.
3.A proper parallel to Patrick’s inability to articulate what makes him uneasy about his father’s body being kept in a freezer .
And it is not just the story of a rebellious youth forced into the care of a reluctant guardian, either, like the trailer suggests. It’s quite the contrary, Lee would love to raise Patrick, he just, almost literally, can’t. Lee fights a debilitating depression, one he’s managed to live with, but one he can’t beat. I know these people, and so does Lonergan. He gets that they need to stay busy, that they rush needlessly into logistics so that their mind can stick to info and evade emotion. It’s no coincidence that Lee begins to slip once the funeral plans and arrangements have finally settled.
I wonder what we desire from these films? Why do we seek to cry over the safety and fantasy of a diaspora separate from our own? Manchester doesn’t ask these questions, but it provides that pleasure in overwhelming severity. Enough to make you question the euphoria.