Film makers are either torch bearers or pall bearers, their pictures either lighthouses shining over seas or drearily and turgidly shouldering moribund movies that should have been buried before they were born.
Kenneth Lonergan is a torch bearer, with a track record of three bona fide beacons as writer director, pictures that illuminate and lead intelligent taste. His directorial debut YOU CAN COUNT ON ME was a superior sibling story, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, his second film, MARGARET, was a disgracefully underrated career high for Anna Paquin, and now his third, His latest film delivers delivers a hat trick. Or to mix the bat and ball metaphors, three home runs.
It’s the story of Lee Chandler, a janitor working in Boston, who returns to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea after the sudden death of his brother.
This return is monumental in many ways, rekindling kinship and memories of a painful past that precipitated Lee’s self imposed exile from the place of his birth.
The choice of Chandler as the surname for the protagonist is a considered one. A chandler was the head of chandlery in medieval households, responsible, predominantly, for candles. The term now has been appropriated by the nautical industry, meaning a dealer in special supplies or equipment for boats.
Lee’s departure was due to perceived irresponsibility of household duty and his deceased brother ran a boat business. His brother’s son, Patrick, sixteen, still at school, under legal age to run the boat, or take hold of his inheritance, comes under direct guardianship of Lee.
And so Lee has to take responsibility for a household responsibility bequeathed by his brother, and consequently for the family business and the future of his nephew.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA packs immense emotional punch, balancing the fears and tears of drama and tragedy with an extraordinary ear and eye for the comedy that surrounds the human condition.
Kenneth Lonergan’s script is a spectacular specimen of situation, character and dialogue and has deservedly been nominated for Best Original Screenplay in this year’s Oscar race.
He’s been in the running before for You Can Count on Me and for co writing The Gangs of New York. Audiences shouldn’t be surprised at how funny MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is considering Lonergan was also a writer on the hilarious, Analyze This.
Lonergan has also been nominated for Best Director and the film is up for Best Picture of the year.
Three of the actors in this excellent ensemble of players are also lauded with Oscar nominations – Casey Affleck for Best Male Actor in a Lead Role for his excoriating performance as Lee, the self-imposed exile caught in an achingly heartbreaking self imprisoning solitary confinement.
Lucas Hedges as Patrick is astonishingly affecting as the adolescent Patrick, adjusting to the loss of his father, the reappearance of his uncle and the changes wrought by the two intertwined occurrences.
And Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex wife Randi, a mountain of heartbreak and a valley of compassion defining the rich topography of her performance.
These wonderful performances are matched by terrific turns from Kyle Chandler as the dear departed Joe, Gretchen Mol as his ex wife and Patrick’s estranged mother, Elise, and Matthew Broderick as Elise’s new husband. Keen eyes will see Lonergan as a passing pedestrian giving sarcastic parental advice.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is magnificently complex, richly entertaining, and wholly human.