Manchester By The Sea – A Review

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Here’s a good rule of thumb – if Kyle Chandler shows up in a movie, it’s probably good. I’m sure that there are exceptions to this, but in general it holds up. Chandler is rarely the star – he always has a small but significant part – yet he has demonstrated pretty good taste in choosing the movies in which he appears after his role as Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights. Carol, Zero Dark Thirty, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Argo all have two things in common – Kyle Chandler turns up and all of them received Oscar nominations. The Spectacular Now was an indie darling. His presence is often a pleasant surprise; rarely do I go into a movie expecting to see Chandler, but like the harbinger of good things, I am always relieved to see his face. If it’s good enough for Kyle Chandler, it’s probably good enough for me.

So I was delighted when I discovered that Chandler has a role in Manchester By The Sea. I had gone into the movie knowing very little about the plot and while the film had a lot of positive buzz around it, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect. Enter Kyle Chandler stage right and I knew everything was going to be fine. Manchester By The Sea is a drama that is sad and tragic, but also occasionally has moments of humor and lightness. The story is simple, but the characters are incredibly complex; the actors that inhabit them give beautifully nuanced performances that leave an impression. At times, Manchester By The Sea can be unbearably sad. I cried many times while watching it in the theater and I really hate doing that. But there is beauty in that sadness, a compelling story about loss, grief, and family.

Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a janitor for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. Lee is a loner and seems ready to lash out at the world, especially after he has been drinking. When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies, Lee is surprised to discover that he has been named the guardian of his teenaged nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking care of Patrick requires Lee to move back to Manchester-by-the-Sea, where he is forced to face his own tragic history, personified by his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Lee tries to help Patrick through his own grief while battling his own demons.

There is no doubt that Manchester By The Sea is a sad movie, but it also finds the humor in grief. There are a lot of humorous exchanges between Lee and Patrick as they explore the unchartered waters of their new reality. Patrick is a good kid, but he’s also a bit of a wiseass and both he and Lee are undoubtedly using comedy to help them deal with the death of Joe. This humor helps balance Manchester By The Sea out; the film can delve into some very dark territory but the viewer never feels like they are completely drowning in sadness because there is inevitable some laughs around the corner. They cut the tension and make Manchester a better movie.

Casey Affleck really delivers a powerhouse performance; as more facets are revealed of Lee’s past, Affleck plays the many different notes of his personality in a natural and understated way. There’s a lot going on with Lee and the film is not afraid to make him completely unlikable one minute and deeply sympathetic the next. Affleck really disappears into the role, inhabiting all the complex and conflicting attributes. Lee really is trying to be there for his nephew in this time of sorrow, but Lee also cannot outrun the past that he is forced to reckon with. There’s a lot going on in this role, but it always feels real and Affleck’s performance is lived in and natural. Casey often toils in the shadow of his more famous older brother, but Manchester is a tour de force performance that solidifies that the talent in the Affleck family runs pretty deep.

Newcomer Lucas Hedges holds his own in the film as well and deserves the critical recognition that he’s received. Hedges and Affleck have excellent on-screen rapport and Hedges feels like a real teenager – overwhelmed by grief, but also a little selfish and self-centered, focused on what everything means to him rather than anyone else. Michelle Williams, who is one of my personal favorites, doesn’t have a ton of screen time but makes the most of what limited time she has with a heartbreaking and devastating performance. There is a scene between her and Affleck toward the end of the movie that just destroyed me and made you feel the pain of both of these characters. They have dealt with their past in very different ways and though they share a history, they cannot seem to figure out a way to help each other without causing more heartache. If Viola Davis wasn’t submitting herself in the supporting actress category this year, I think Williams would have been the frontrunner to win. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve seen this movie, but her scene with Affleck is still the first thing I think about when I hear a reference to this movie. That’s how powerful it was.

I really enjoyed Manchester By The Sea, at least as much as you can enjoy a film with this subject matter. The acting is strong across the board and while the story is emotionally challenging, it is told in a beautiful and artistic way. Casey Affleck is currently the frontrunner for Best Actor at the Oscars and while his personal history may (rightly) jeopardize that, on a purely artistic level this is perhaps the best performance of his career. Manchester By The Sea is chock full of realistic depictions of grief and what happens when running away from your demons is no longer an option. The characters feel real and their journeys are authentic; while they are all impacted by their ordeal, they are not completely transformed. This is a heavy movie that is tempered by its interludes of lightness. It’s a film that has stuck with me, which is one reason that it took me so long to review as I struggled to articulate why it was so captivating. And, for the record, in his limited screen time, Kyle Chandler is, as always, aces.

Manchester By The Sea is currently in theaters.

 

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Almost the Oscars edition

We’re in the home stretch – the Academy Awards are this Sunday. All I have left in my quest to see all of the Oscar nominated films are some foreign films and some documentaries. If everything goes according to plan, I think I am going to come up two movies short of my goal. It’s proven to be impossible to find the foreign film No and the documentary The Guardians. The closest that either film is playing is NYC and unless I want to take the day off to make the trip downstate (which I did actually consider), I think the dream may be dead. But still – I’ll come pretty darn close!

As I frantically try to find some Oscar screeners, enjoy your biweekly roundup of pop culture stories you may have missed:

  • A happy belated 75th birthday to author Judy Blume!
  • In honor of the season three finale (what did everyone think??), here’s the cast of Downton Abbey performing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”

 

  • Maybe they were jealous of the attention that Jeopardy! has been receiving lately, but Wheel of Fortune decided to up their game with a dog on a scooter.

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  • The 2013 Bonnaroo line-up was announced yesterday. I want to go!
  • I hate Monopoly – it takes way too long and just isn’t much fun – but I might change my mind if I played this Breaking Bad version.
  • Check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s foreign ad for Jim Beam:

 

  • This is hilarious – Guy Fieri didn’t secure the full URL for his restaurant’s website, so someone else bought it and posted a parody menu. Well played.
  • Josh Duhamel and Fergie are expecting their first child; the singer announced the news on Twitter, using the hashtag #mylovelybabybump (which I have to admit is pretty cute).
  • The movie Lincoln inspired the state of Mississippi to finally ratify the 13th Amendment. They somehow hadn’t managed to get around to that yet. Who says pop culture can’t make a difference?
  • Listen to Mariah Carey’s new song from the upcoming film Oz the Great and Powerful (I’m not a fan – she sounds weird)

 

  • I don’t know that it was in doubt, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will be back for a ninth season.

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  • So, is everyone else watching The Following and kind of getting obsessed with it? Intellectually I have a ton of problems with the show, but damn it if it doesn’t manage to drag me in every Monday night.
  • SNL continues to be dreadful; I only made it about halfway through last week’s episode with Christoph Waltz. I did, however, really enjoy this digital short:
  • Whoo-boy. Things are not going well for Renee Zellweger. Lifetime just passed on her pilot Cinnamon Girl. Let that sink in for a moment. The network that gave us Liz & Dick passed on a pilot featuring an Oscar winner. I think we may have just found rock bottom.
  • The great Andre Braugher has joined Andy Samberg’s new police comedy pilot on Fox. The likelihood that I will tune in to this show if it goes to series just jumped to 100%.
  • It’s been a good couple of weeks for me – another one of my favorites joined a pilot. Josh Holloway (aka Sawyer on Lost) will star in the CBS drama Intelligence.
  • The New York Times Magazine has a long profile of blog favorite Connie Britton.
  • Sarah Michelle Geller will be starring opposite Robin Williams in a new sitcom.
  • Don’t cry for the B in Apt. 23 – Krysten Ritter landed a role in a pilot for NBC. Let’s hope James Van Der Beek has as smooth a transition.
  • PBS is trying to become the first nonprofit organization to reach one billion views on YouTube.

 

  • HBO may have pulled the plug on Luck, but it lives on in blog form. Added bonus – no horses can die online.
  • I guess they had a lot of fun filming Silver Linings Playbook; Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are reuniting with director David O. Russell on his next film (and holy hell – this film has an amazing cast!).
  • TV Land had become the go-to network for 90s sitcom stars. They have ordered a new comedy starring Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards.
  • NBC’s new drama Hannibal will debut on Thursday April 4th.

 

  • Jerry Seinfeld stopped by The Late Show with David Letterman to do some stand-up:

 

  • Dean Norris (Hank to Breaking Bad fans) has been cast in the upcoming Stephen King miniseries, Under the Dome.
  • As an unabashed fan of The Golden Girls, I couldn’t pass up this collection of the 10 best musical numbers from the series.
  • The Strokes are back with a new song:

 

  • TV Duck has an infograph of 15 things you didn’t know about The Walking Dead.
  • My baseball husband Mark Teixiera made his Broadway debut in Rock of Ages. Check out video here.
  • The Discovery Channel is launching two new documentary series that focus on marijuana. The are calling the block of programming “Weed Wednesdays.”
  • And finally, a 60 second, live action version of the wonderful Wreck it Ralph: