Manchester by the Sea
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick
Lee Chandler, a handyman and janitor, must return to his home town of Manchester, north of Boston, after the sudden death of his older brother Joe. He discovers that Joe named him legal guardian of his 16-year-old son Patrick. Lee will have to face the ghosts of his tragic past…
A dramatist and a screenwriter for major directors (he wrote the scripts of Analyze This and Gangs of New York), Kenneth Lonergan proves in this brilliant film that he is an artist of great sensitivity, capable of diving deeply and compassionately into grief.
The movie is strengthened by Casey Affleck’s performance (already excellent in his brother Ben’s debut behind the camera in Gone Baby Gone), and a strong cast, among whom the young Lucas Hedges and the veteran Kyle Chandler shine.
The plot doesn’t progress linearly, but reveals its secrets gradually. Lee’s resistance to coming back to his home town, where he had been happy, his complicated family ties (his deceased brother had an alcoholic wife, who abandoned him and their son, and then made a new life for herself with a very devoted partner), are explained by a terrible tragedy that destroyed a family but couldn’t erase the love.
The unsentimental and sometimes painful depiction of the relationship between uncle and nephew is one of the more touching features of the movie. In other moments, the movie chooses a lighter approach (like Patrick’s love misadventures, where he exploits his loss to carry on the complicated triangle he has with two women), showing that life goes on even after the worst tragedies.
Lonergan’s script has a sardonic humour and avoids heart-warming sentimentality. But it offers a humanly positive perspective, leaving a door open to forgiveness, which is the only possible key to making a fresh start in life. But as the film shows, it can be harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others.
Problematic elements for the viewer: a couple of sexual scenes, foul language.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster.