‘Manchester by the Sea’ brilliantly sheds light on grief but fails to offer hope


A still of Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in ‘Manchester by the Sea.’ Affleck portrays a man who is named the legal guardian of his nephew after a tragedy strikes in the family. Earlier this month, Affleck won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. Image source: manchesterbytheseamovie.com

The Academy Awards are less than eight weeks away, and several films have garnered much critical acclaim, including “Manchester by the Sea.” The movie focuses on a suburban Massachusetts family whose dynamics are defined by tragedy. 

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges and Kyle Chandler. The film concentrates on a heartbroken man named Lee [Affleck] who loses his brother and goes home to organize what he believes are funeral arrangements but comes to find out that he has been named the guardian of his nephew, Patrick [Hedges]. 

The film genuinely explores grief and whether or not it is possible to recover from it, and every character in the film is forced to confront loss in one way or another. Affleck and Hedges have an intense dynamic together, and even though Affleck headlines the film, Hedges holds his own.

In such a tragic story about pain and sorrow, Hedges makes the audience laugh with his dark comedic timing once in a while, as does Affleck. Affleck’s occasional humor is a glimpse of the man he used to be.

Michelle Williams [Randi] portrays Lee’s [Affleck’s] fragile ex-wife who struggles with her own inner anguish. Despite the fact that she is prominently featured on the film’s poster, her character sparingly appears on-screen. Even though her on-screen time is short, her acting is outstanding and incredibly captivating, taking the audience right to the heart of her pain.

Overall, it is Lee’s relationship with his nephew [Hedges] that dominates the movie. Through reconnecting with Patrick, Lee is given the chance to reconnect to life and hope, but he simply can’t. Lee is too defeated by his past, filled with alcohol, failure and suffering.

However, “Manchester by the Sea” is not solely about Lee and his family and their drinking problems and broken marriages. Perhaps unintentionally, but powerfully nonetheless, the film also tackles the emotions and current state of America’s white working class, a topic that has come up numerous times after Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

Lee lives in a basement that doubles as a bedroom, and he earns minimum wage as a janitor, receiving tips from African-Americans. Because there are characters in the film who went on to forge a better life for themselves, it is clear that Lee once had potential for a brighter future. However, he chose a bleaker one as a form of self-punishment for his past mistakes.

Overall, “Manchester by the Sea” is beautifully written, directed and acted, but the overwhelming sadness of the story can sometimes overshadow the film’s positive aspects.

The movie has a total running time of two hours and 17 minutes and is rated R for sexual content, language and drinking. It is currently playing at several theaters throughout Los Angeles, including Sundance Sunset Cinema, The Landmark at Westside Pavilion and ArcLight Culver City.

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“Manchester by the Sea” is a drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan that was released in 2016. The movie stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges.