Movie Review – Manchester by the Sea

New England tragedy meets New England traditions meets New England gaucheness meets New England resilience. The original screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan) is a breath of fresh air from the New England coast. It carries with it the smells of the sea, the postcards of the scenic hamlets nestled along the coastline, the stench of alcoholism and the misery it entails and the uplifting tale of the power of familial bonds.

The nonlinear style of narrative works quite well for Lonergan who has masterfully kept the suspense intact up until he wants to let the cat out of the bag vis-a-vis the tragedy. The viewer is kept guessing the probable scenarios that could have precipitated Lee Chandler’s (Casey Affleck) prevailing situation. The flashbacks are tight and leave you wanting that wee bit more. He draws upon the other characters to fill in some of the white spaces on the canvas quite adequately while still leaving enough white spaces to stoke the viewers imagination. The manifest choppiness of the flashbacks is surprisingly the very reason the narrative is captivating. It gives the viewer some comic relief every time the pain quotient threatens to breach the banks of viewer tolerance and just when one is about to get comfortable in the inertia of rest he deftly swerves into another flashback. Lonergan has so effortlessly managed to craft this movie in this unique style without it coming across as an overly ambitious and an ill-executed experiment. I doff my hat to his genius.

Casey Affleck is quite magnificent as the numbed out victim of a tragedy of biblical proportions whose every act is now mechanical and perfunctory. The alcohol catalyzed emotional erruptions that surface from time to time are played with a certitude that can only be drawn from personal experience. The fact that Affleck grew up in a household that had a father who in his words was “a disaster of a drinker” and a family history of alcohol abuse perhaps decodes the mystery behind the élan with which he has nailed it. There is a distinct death wish about his mannerisms that leave the viewer on edge expecting a conflagration which shall extinguish him forever. The consistency of his presentation of emotional dysfunction throughout is something else. His eyes start speaking before he has even uttered a single word in most of his scenes and that is what might win him the Oscar.

Lucas Hedges (the nephew) plays the archetypal teenager to a nicety. The fixation with sports and sex even in the face of parental bereavement has been handled adroitly.

The brilliant Michelle Williams even in that abridged role manages to dazzle with her histrionic prowess.

All in all a veritable feast for your senses and your soul.