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Arts & Culture

Award-winning 'Manchester By The Sea' Opens In San Diego

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) suddenly finds himself guardian to his young nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in the film "Manchester by the Sea."
Amazon Studios
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) suddenly finds himself guardian to his young nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in the film "Manchester by the Sea."

Indie film just won four top honors from National Board of Review

Award-winning 'Manchester By The Sea' Opens In San Diego
Kenneth Lonergan impressed audiences with his debut film "You Can Count on Me." His latest film "Manchester by the Sea" has been racking up awards, including a quartet from the National Board of Review earlier this week.

Companion viewing

"The Sweet Hereafter" (1997)

"Still Walking" (2008)

"A Single Man" (2009)

Kenneth Lonergan impressed audiences with his debut film "You Can Count on Me." His latest film "Manchester by the Sea" has been racking up awards, including a quartet from the National Board of Review earlier this week.

"Manchester by the Sea" opens on a boat off the New England coast. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) jokes with his young nephew, Patrick, about which person he'd prefer to be stranded with: Lee or the boy's dad, Joe (Kyle Chandler). It comes across as a scene recounting a most ordinary day.

Cut to years later and Lee gets a phone call telling him that Joe is in the hospital. When Joe dies (not a spoiler since that's in the trailer) Lee is forced to return to their New England hometown to face new loss and past tragedy. He's also stunned to discover that his brother made him guardian to the now teenager Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

"Manchester by the Sea" is a sprawling emotional saga about grief and loss. Joe's death is the immediate loss presented by the film but Lee is haunted by an older and much more devastating one that is abruptly revealed later in the film. It is Lee's struggle to come to terms with that prior loss that consumes him through the bulk of the film.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan builds his film from deceptively mundane moments. Most of what happens in the film is the stuff of everyday life. Lee, a janitor, deals with an odd array of clients that he can barely tolerate and Patrick juggles multiple girlfriends at high school. But to Lee, these daily routines only re-emphasize how meaningless life seems to him. He simply goes through the motions and admits to Patrick that even making small talk is too much of a strain on him.

Lonergan delivers a somewhat unwieldy but ultimately compelling work about how a death forces one man back into the land of the living. He succeeds in making the film build in quiet intensity but the sudden and repeated flashbacks don't always flow organically from the story. Lonergan admirably attempts to tell much of his story visually as opposed to through dialogue and that's fitting considering Lee's personality. But too often, Lonergan lets scenes play too long with characters off in the distance talking where we can't hear them, and that seems less about visual storytelling and more about just avoiding writing dialogue.

But there is a powerful emotional truth running underneath the film that ultimately impresses.

"Manchester by the Sea" (rated R for language throughout and some sexual content) has been racking up awards and nominations that make it a strong contender for Oscar attention. It's not a flashy film, nor is it perfect, but there is an honesty and deep-felt compassion that cannot be ignored.

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