Manchester By The Sea tells the story of a blue-collar Catholic family. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman and janitor haunted by his past, demeaned by his tenets, dealing with the death of his brother, and the responsibility of caring for his nephew.
The film is beautifully shot and scored, and yet the screenplay eschews the usual Hollywood devices. i.e. Nobody sad gets to walk in the rain. Even more jarring, the petty frustrations of daily life are kept in: the phone ringing in the middle of the funeral mass, the jokes after the burial. There are no perfect moments, only human ones. “You know Catholics are Christians too, right?”
Lee Chandler is a tragic everyman. And yet, even in the midst of his struggles, and failings, there is and there was, love. This is not a cynical movie. It presents marriage and parenthood as lifelong and enduring, even when they end. Michelle Williams performance as Lee’s ex-wife Randy is masterful. Manchester by the Sea is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. A story about class, family, love, and for the viewer, catharsis. I ran home and (no joke) hugged my kids.
If it’s true that understanding “the other” is a prerequisite for loving them, than I can say this film made me love my neighbor, in the everyman character of Lee Chandler, more. Because sometimes just getting up and going to work everyday is heroic. It’s rated R and not appropriate for kids. Watch the trailer here: