Love. Pain. Death. Family. These are the main themes of this excellent Amazon production.
Set among the cold and beautiful New England scenery, the story follows Lee (played by Casey Affleck) as he goes back to his hometown to take charge of his teenage nephew, Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges) after the death of Lee’s brother.
From the start, it is obvious that something more than grief is going on. Lee is very reluctant to go back. There are nudges and whispers by the townspeople at the sight of him. Why does everyone treat him with kid gloves, and why is Lee such a jerk to them in return?
The strength of Manchester By the Sea is in the well-written characters and the strong performances. You can understand why this quiet recluse is so hesitant about taking on the responsibility of a teenager. But you can also sympathize with the teen who has no one else. A reluctant uncle is better than having no one. This is a story about good people who are trying to deal with the present tragedy and continue to live with the pain of the past, even if they cannot come to terms with it. Affleck (who deservedly won the best actor award for this performance) and Hedges are entirely believable as family. Playing Lee’s ex-wife with tenderness and precision is Michelle Williams who is only there for a few scenes but oh, what tremendous scenes!
Even the ending is beautifully surprising. Painful but understandable. So grab a Kleenex box, warm up some Clam Chowder soup, and prepare to identify with some decent, heartbroken characters.