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Review Blog

Manchester by the Sea

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 21, 2016 at 11:35 PM


Kenneth Lonergan




IDEA:  An emotionally withdrawn man's routine is disrupted when he is assigned to care for the son of his recently deceased brother.

BLURB:  A husband and father who has buried his emotions following an unspeakable tragedy. A brother whose past trauma reemerges in the face of a new one. An uncle who is tasked with being his teenage nephew’s guardian following the death of the boy’s father. The protagonist of Manchester by the Sea, played in surly, hauntingly wearied form by Casey Affleck, fulfills all of these roles. Lonergan has him at the center of a nuanced family drama in which an assortment of relationships are simultaneously drawn and reconfigured, built and fractured and built up again, in the wintry murk of the eponymous New England town. This is a man whose myriad infractions, gradually and poignantly revealed throughout the film’s flashback structure, should make us despise him. There is little arguing that he has been immature, irresponsible, and ill-equipped at the worst possible moments. And yet in Lonergan’s generous portrait, humans are not subjected to the judgment of an assumed moral authority. They simply carry on, burdened by their mistakes when they make them and, unsurprisingly, fraught by the struggle to mend the grief they’ve sown. If anything is to be criticized about Manchester by the Sea, it is unfortunately bound up with its male-oriented subject matter: Lonergan has very little time for his female characters, and the women who do appear are, rather bafflingly, either obstacles for men or inexplicable flirts, in all cases underdeveloped. Such an unfair separation along gender lines feels incongruous in a movie that accords its characters ample room to express themselves, that regards them with compassion and never attempts to fit them into snug prescribed narratives. It’s an unfortunate oversight that makes the otherwise moving, sensitive, impressively restrained Manchester by the Sea a too narrowly masculine affair.

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About the Author

Jonathan Leithold-Patt is a cinephile, film critic, and artist.

Contact at [email protected]

Devoted to the Movies