Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Much like La La Land, I have been excited for this film since the casting was announced, Michelle Williams is one of my favourite actors ever, I think her performance in Blue Valentine sis one of the best I have seen on screen. Casey Affleck is an actor who I’ve loved ever since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and I love Kenneth Lonergan’s writing style with This is Our Youth being one of my favourite plays. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to look forward to, however, as a preface, I’m gonna start by saying that this was a victim of overhyping for me, I expected it to blow my mind and break my heart which is never gonna happen if you expect it to. I think this is a film I’ll appreciate much more on a second viewing at home, not that I didn’t appreciate a lot at the time though.

Lonergan’s script was probably one of the most noticeably fantastic scripts in a film that I’ve seen for a while now. Despite the tragic backbone of the story Lonergan keeps it humourous without letting it veer out of naturalism or letting it overshadow the emotions at play. The naturalistic style of the script is boosted by frankly impeccable casting, every single actor was entirely believable and not one scene was over played. Whilst talking about the acting it would only be natural to talk about the leads, Casey Affleck I think is entirely deserving of the acclaim and awards being heaped upon him. What I love so much about him as an actor is that he always creates entirely believable characters and never overplays any emotions which seems to be the popular way to do things at the moment. He’s totally un-selfconscious and lacks any of the vanity that holds so many actors back, I think this leads to some people thinking he’s a bit boring because hes not screaming or shouting but acting like normal people do. His performance in this is the best I’ve seen of him, its an incredibly internalised performance but you can always sense everything bubbling underneath the surface and there are a few scenes where you can really see him struggling to keep it in and it’s truly magnificent. Michelle Williams has a lot less time on screen than the marketing might make you think and she is great, as you’d expect from her, but for some reason that I can’t quite articulate, something was ever so slightly missing and it just wasn’t the best I feel I’ve seen her. Lucas Hedges as the second lead does a really great job, especially for someone without a huge amount of screen experience. I did expect a little more from him not just because his dad had died and he didn’t seem all that phased for the most part ( I understand theres the whole aspect of it being inevitable so slightly less hard to deal with and either way its the screenplay and direction dictating the emotional shifts) but also because of how much he was touted as a revelation. He was very good but not the revelation he was sold to be, not that its a comparison because they’re different films entirely but I only wish Antoine Olivier Pilon had got the same acclaim for his performance in Mommy, but thats a moot point.

The only concrete faults I could really pick in the film are the editing which at points was very sloppy, cutting in mid sentence or sound effect at points which was really jarring. One other moment of unnecessary editing was in the flashback (SPOILERS) to the death of Casey Affleck’s kids, the scene kept flipping back to the present despite being part of one continuous flashback which didn’t add anything as we were already aware of the fact it was a flashback and that he was in the legal office. That sequence and the funeral sequence bring me onto my other main fault which was the music, in both these scenes there is a lack of dialogue, but instead they were filled with Lesley Barber’s oeratic scoring. The score was very elegiac and choral but I personally felt it was far too much and just generally overwrought and detracted a lot from two scenes that could have been much more powerful if not for the intrusive score that didn’t feel as though it really fitted the tone of the film but rather was desperately trying to make you feel sad.

As I said, this is a film I’m eager to watch again and I assume I’ll enjoy it a lot more the second time, I think I was both expecting too much and in slightly too cynical a mood to really let it take me on the journey of the characters. Either way its an impeccably written film with some fantastic performances that are worth watching the film for alone.