Manchester By the Sea

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges star in a quiet, moving drama

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges star in a quiet, moving drama, Manchester By the Sea

Gail and I always want to see the good movies, and then haven’t gotten around to actually going to one in months.  One of the nice things about being in Santa Cruz for a few days is going to the Nickleodeon, a local branch of the Landmark theater chain that always has the serious, often foreign, movies that we prefer.  And real butter for the popcorn. Ever since the Cine Arts dome in Pleasant Hill was razed, we lack a local outlet for the cinema we prefer.

Manchester By the Sea has been hailed by the critics as one of the year’s best.  It rates an impressive 97 on the tomatometer, and deserves every bit of it.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is an unhappy guy, doing grunt janitoral/maintenance work in Boston, living in a tiny room and not enjoying life.  When his brother dies, Lee has to go back to his home town of Manchester to settle affairs, affairs which include the custody of his brother’s 16 year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  This is a task for which Lee is manifestly unsuited.

Slowly, for this film has a quiet and stately pace, we find the backstory.  Lee was married, to Randi (Michelle Williams), and had 3 children.  One dreadful night, while Lee was out buying more beer, the house burned down and all three children perished.  His life shattered, his marriage destroyed, Lee left town for his life of solitude and despair.

Lee can’t stand the town, and the town isn’t very fond of him, either.  He has problems finding work, even though he is a skilled handyman. A chance encounter with his re-married ex-wife and her new baby is excruciating as she tries to express her sorrow for the dissolution of their marriage and he is inchoherent in his pain, finally running away in frustration.

Patrick wants to stay where he is, finish high school with his friends and operate his father’s lobster boat.  Lee wants to get the heck out of town, taking his young charge with him.  Drama ensues.  Patrick attempts to re-unite with his estranged mother, but it’s a disaster. A longtime alcoholic, seeing Patrick seems to make her fall right off the wagon.  A cameo appearance by Matthew Broderick as the mother’s new husband is close to comic relief, but the pain of this movie can’t be relieved that easily.

Of course, in the fullness of time a resolution is reached.  Lee seems to be slowly, achingly, coming out of the darkness and rejoining the world.  Patrick will stay in his school and make the life he wants.

Affleck does a wonderful job in this film, trying to convey the emotions that his character is incapable of expressing.  Lucas Hedges is marvelous as a young man bursting with the possibilities of youth.  Michelle Williams is transcendent, as always.

If you aren’t going to get to a lot of movies, this is likely the one to see.

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