Manchester by the Sea, B+
Rated R, 135 minutes
"Manchester by the Sea" is a satisfying, touching and funny dramedy that deals with family, loss and commitment. In spite of a couple of minor flaws, most of it works remarkably well from director and writer Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me"), navigating some very dark issues with a deft touch.
After the sudden death of Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler), his younger brother Lee (Casey Affleck), who has settled in Boston, is made legal guardian of Joe's son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee returns to his hometown in the fishing community of Manchester-by-the-Sea and has to deal with both his separated wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community.
The darkly humorous dramedy "Manchester by the Sea" is an excellent portrait of the dark side of family dysfunction, with some memorable performances: grounded by the superb, Oscar-worthy turn from Affleck as the younger brother who has trouble taking care of himself, not to mention his nephew, played with natural skill from newcomer Lucas Hedges ("Moonrise Kingdom") in a breakout turn that could also see some accolades. Also memorably touching in a small supporting role is past Oscar-nominee Williams, who is also gaining some awards buzz here as well; Williams' and Affleck's final, heartbreaking scene as they grapple with their past is among the best in "Manchester," which is filled with some great scenes.
The film's darker midsection is well-played, especially by Affleck, as Lonergan slowly unfolds Lee's troubled past, and the real reason he left town. There's also one powerful, haunting scene that will probably assure Affleck of a nomination, and I won't reveal it here but suffice to say, you'll know it when you get to it. The chilly locals and gray cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes adds some nice texture and authenticity to "Manchester" (it was filmed on location in Massachusetts) and you get a real sense of what it's like to experience New England winters.
Lonergan gets nearly all of it right, with a few minor blemishes. For a drama such as this, it's a tad lengthy, filled with a little too much exposition and flashbacks, especially in the overlong first act, and there's an unnecessary subplot involving Joe's mother (Gretchen Mol) and stepdad (Matthew Broderick) given too much footage late in the film. Lonergan could've also added a little heft to the ending, which doesn't quite feel complete.
Still, those are fairly minor qualms for a well-crafted, touching and powerful film about family and loss. The worthwhile "Manchester By the Sea" should also expect awards consideration for Lonergan's script and maybe direction, along with acting accolades for Affleck, Williams and newcomer Hedges. Definitely one to see.