By Espie Angelica A. De Leon
“Manchester by the Sea” opens with a charming scene where the central character Lee Chandler, superbly portrayed by Casey Affleck is shown with his 8-year-old nephew Patrick, fishing and having a good time in a boat out at sea. Lee asks Patrick who would he rather be with in an island – his dad Joe or him. The rapport is unmistakable and natural.
The next scenes, set around eight years later however show Lee, a janitor and handyman at an apartment complex in Boston, Massachusetts, in a different light. He seems too serious, indifferent and unfriendly. “You wouldn’t even say good morning,” says his boss. He is irritable and quarrelsome as well, picking fights with patrons at a bar and other strangers he perceives to have something against him. And, he is alone.
Very good characterization, if I may say. Right away, the movie establishes its main character, providing vital information such as what he does for a living and his personality.
The story proceeds to show Lee learning of his brother Joe’s death due to cardiac arrest and his being appointed as guardian of Patrick, now a teenager portrayed by Lucas Hedges. Patrick’s mom, an alcoholic when she and his father were still together, is now living with another man.
As the story rolls along – with Lee preparing for Joe’s burial, getting along with Patrick who has issues of his own, struggling with the motions of being a guardian, and reconciling the idea of his own solitary life in Boston and the necessity of moving back to Manchester where he used to live to be his nephew’s guardian – these scenes are interspersed with flashbacks. These scenes from the past reveal that Lee was once a happy, fulfilled individual. He had a wife, three kids, and friends and lived in a more conventional family home, in Manchester. He and Patrick also used to be close, often spending time together in the boat owned by Joe.
But then something happened that transformed the man, forever seemingly. Even his relationship with Patrick is affected.
The juxtaposition of the present with the past in the movie is effective, painting the picture of a man who has clearly changed – understandably yet pitifully so. Though the storytelling is not linear, the dividing line between the old Lee and the new one – though not shiningly new – is marked, clear and evident. The screenplay succeeds in achieving this.
Likewise, it succeeds in using symbolisms to show the main character’s emotional state. Scenes showing snowfall, snow by the roadside, snow-covered trees and streets, and Lee shoveling snow, are aplenty in the movie. Aptly, these reflect Lee’s own winter – the biting cold and darkness which have conquered his heart for years. It is a winter season which has stayed far too longer than it should and seems difficult to get rid of.
Kudos to screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan who also happens to be the director, for penning a splendid script for a movie which is simple, yet heartfelt and beautiful.
Aside from the excellent script, Manchester by the Sea also scores high on the musical score department.
Anothergem is the acting.
Affleck is luminous as the depressed Lee Chandler. The viewer can feel his emotional turmoil; no histrionics whatsoever, just subtle acting that is nevertheless very powerful and affecting.
Among the memorable scenes showcasing Affleck’s acting chops are the one at the hospital when he learns about Joe’s death and inside the elevator when he is on his way to the morgue to view Joe’s body. Affleck the actor is quiet – no tears whatsoever – just a hard, seemingly stoic yet sad, brooding look on his face.
Affleck also shines in that scene with the lawyer when he learns Joe has appointed him as Patrick’s guardian.
Throughout the movie, the actor becomes the character he portrays, with so much credibility – once happy and jovial, now bitter and forlorn.
Other acting highlights are provided by Hedges as the teenaged Patrick, the ever reliable Michelle Williams as Lee’s wife Randi, and Gretchen Mol as Patrick’s mother Elise.
Hedges and Mol are brilliant in that scene showing them awkwardly having lunch together for the first time in many years with Elise’s new boyfriend.
The story ends on a happier note however. In the middle of the story, Lee slowly begins to assume the role of guardian. The tender, loving concern of a father starts to show, such as in the scene when Patrick opens the refrigerator, panics, and the former tries to comfort him as best he could.
And as in the opening scene, the closing segment shows uncle and nephew together – in the boat out at sea – fishing, quietly.
Things in Lee’s and Patrick’s life are still not perfect at this point, with some developments not going in the direction they expect. But hope comes alive, and this lifts the spirit of the viewer. And hopefully, of Lee Chandler as well.
August 2017 Health and Lifestyle