This is not a Movie Blog-Manchester by the Sea

In this time of fake news, depressing politics, and the melting of the polar ice caps, compartmentalization might be the only way to live and not to go nuts (or postal). Drugs are another option that increasing numbers of people are turning to in order to deal with pain, isolation, and a myriad of other social ills enhanced by capitalism run amok. Might I suggest a third way?

Finding an avenue of escape from the cares of this world (while waiting for Jesus’ return) by locating that rare local theater that hasn’t been boarded up due to the interwebs is getting harder and harder to pull off. Luckily, we now live in a town that still has one of these wonderful, big screen places hearkening back to the day when all movies were projected onto big screens. Seeing a flick in a theater—sharing sharing that experience with other human beings simultaneously—is still how I prefer to watch my movies. Not on off the face of my smartphone or screen on my laptop.

Winter time is movie-going time for Mary and me. Once we come out of the cave in the spring, we rarely step back into darkened movie auditoriums. It’s not like we see a ton of movies, but December to March is when we watch the bulk of our films for the year.

Last Saturday, we saw Manchester by the Sea at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema. I love this space. It has a nostalgic feel partly because it’s a place that I’ve been watching Hollywood fare since the late 1970s. Fans of in-person viewing should thank their lucky stars for owner Barry Norman. There aren’t enough people like him keeping old-school escapist entertainment alive here in the 21st century.

I caught the trailer for the movie just after Thanksgiving and thought I’d like to see it. Mary also had the same idea. We scheduled a date and made what is now a 10-minute trek from our cove to downtown last Saturday.

When you first meet brooding janitor, Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck), you know there’s a backstory behind why he’s shoveling snow and emptying garbage during the opening scene. It’s the middle of winter and we see him several times dealing with the thankless life of servicing the tenants of an apartment complex somewhere in gray, wintry Quincy, Massachusetts.

Director Kenneth Lonergan uses flashbacks as a way to offer us clues to Chandler’s past. There’s the fishing vessel, owned by his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), out in the Atlantic. Lee is seen interacting with Joe’s preteen son, Patrick. We see him as a jokester, not yet beaten down by life’s events. Young Patrick is cute, like all 8 or 9-year-olds usually are in the movies. He won’t come off that way later in the film.

This filmmaking device happens often throughout the movie. Lonergan also gives us glimpses of Lee’s dark side. Like when he tells an overly-demanding young female tenant off, or goes to the bar to drink and gets into a fight. Then there is his flat, joyless affect. The director is letting us in that something is bubbling just under the surface with this guy.

Then, Joe dies of cardiac arrest. We find out that Lee’s been named guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), now a typical, self-absorbed teenager. This would be a game-changer for Lee. He’s be forced to move back to Manchester, a place we’ll learn that is filled with memories and tragedy that haunt him. His ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), still lives there, too. If you’ve seen the trailer, she’s the one chewing out Lee’s friends in the semi-humorous scene, drinking down in their basement and being overly loud, late at night. There are also the “whispers” about Lee around town.

Manchester by the Sea

Lonergan’s use of flashbacks aren’t everyone’s cup-of-tea, I’m sure. It is one way to tell a complex story, however—and aren’t the stories of real life much more complicated than what a two-hour movie script might allow for? Still, the back-and-forth storytelling technique he employed was somewhat jarring for me, and I like the use of flashbacks.

As much as I rail against it, I’m just as affected as the next guy by the intrusion of Twitter and 140-character narratives. I found that the movie dragged a bit for me. Could it have been edited down, some? Obviously Lonergan (and producer Matt Damon) thought not.

When we first came home for drinks and were making dinner, Mary and I talked about the movie. I said I thought it was a bit disappointing. I really disliked 16-year-old Patrick. His only focus after his father died seemed to be texting, and juggling multiple girls that he only wants to bed. It appeared that he thought his uncle’s role was to be a driver and a convenient ploy for the girls or their mothers. Mary seemed a bit more aligned with the critics, however.

You see, other reviewers apparently possess more depth in terms of movies than I do—like Francine Prose at The New York Review of Books and A.O. Scott at The Old Gray Lady, aka, the New York Times. Maybe it’s a New York thing, but even NPR’s Terry Gross loved the film. I must now rethink my own take on it. Or maybe not.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad I saw the movie. Given its performance in some of the run-up to the Oscars, it’s surely considered one of 2016’s big films, along with La La Land, Moonlight, and Hacksaw Ridge. I hope to get out and see some of the other “top” movies and maybe I’ll reassess Manchester by the Sea.