Casey Affleck will break your heart in Manchester by the Sea

A past tragedy leaves wounds that do heal in this emotional powerhouse of a family drama.

Manchester by the Sea (NC16: coarse language and some sexual references)

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Manchester by the Sea enters the Oscars next week in the categories of best picture, and best director and original screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.

The surest win will be the best actor for Casey Affleck. It will cap the 50-over citations Affleck already has for his minimal performance as Lee Chandler.

A Boston handyman with a heart frozen like the winter of this Massachusetts working-class family drama, Lee returns north to Manchester-by-the-Sea when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. He discovers he has been appointed sole guardian of the brother’s son (Lucas Hedges). Lee wants nothing to do with his coastal hometown.

Interweaving flashbacks reveal at the one-hour mark the shocking tragedy that explains his self-exile years earlier, why Lee has isolated himself from relationships and all feelings except for angry drunken bar fights. The audience should arrive at this emotional powerhouse on their own without our review telling too much.

Michelle Williams is the ex-wife: The couple’s chance meeting on a street is shattering. Lucas Hedges is the nephew, a popular high school teen, neither he nor Lee able to understand each other. Both Williams and Hedges are also Oscar-nominated for their supporting acts.

Grief weighs upon Lonergan’s movies, this his third, after 2000’s You Can Count on Me and 2011’s Margaret.

And yet there are many incongruously funny moments such as Lee, in the middle of an impassioned argument, forgetting where he parked the car, and then dropping his keys.

Well, that’s life, the humour and the sadness. Lonergan is an acclaimed playwright (This Is Our Youth). He gets the best from the actors including Kyle Chandler as Lee’s brother because he writes real characters coping day-by-day in lived-in stories of humanity where loose ends remain untied, scars don’t heal, and Lee is granted no closure. 4.5/5

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