Manchester by the Sea (2016) Manchester-by-the-Sea is a quiet, unassuming town in Massachussetts. Once dependent on fishing, it eventually shifted to a summer/tourist spot for Boston residents that came once in a while. Similar thing can be said about Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), the lead character in the film by the same name. Once a fisherman in the town, Lee is forced to move to the Boston area after a tragic event we don't immediately know about. But Lee comes back to Manchester-by-the-Sea from time to time, to check on his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedge).
When Joe dies from a cardiac arrest, Lee is again forced to return to his hometown to tend to his brothers' affairs. Lee, who lives a mostly secluded and introverted life, is more surprised to realize that his brother left him as guardian of his son, a 16-year-old, extroverted teenager. This return brings back countless demons in Lee's life that he has chosen not to deal with.
My first and only experience with Kenneth Lonergan was watching You Can Count on Me back in the day. I remember liking it, but I haven't seen it since. What I do remember is a decidedly and intentional awkward tone in it. The same can be said about Manchester by the Sea, which has a deadpan, awkward tone to most of its happenings. This is not a slight to the film but it ends up being, well, awkward. The film spends much of its length jumping from awkward interaction to awkward interaction. Some work, others don't.
In the center of it all is Casey Affleck's performance, who plays Lee as a clearly troubled man that has managed to bottle up his feelings, anger, and grief. I think he did a pretty good job, even if my heart would've preferred something a bit more emotional. His chemistry with Hedge is also believable and not sappy. Michelle Williams has a top-billed, brief role as Lee's ex-wife. She shines in his few scenes, but to be honest, I would've liked to find out more about them.
All in all, Manchester by the Sea manages to be a compelling watch, and a great reflection on grief, with some good/great performances. But I just can't seem to shake off the awkwardness. Grade: B+