Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea played this past weekend at the New York Film Festival. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a handyman working outside of Boston. Lee spends his mundane life fixing leaky pipes and toilets by day and drinking heavily in bars by night. It doesn’t take much to set him off and start a bar room brawl. He is a troubled man.
Lee is called to Manchester for someone who is sick or has passed away. We finally learn through flashbacks that it was the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler. Joe died from a heart attack after suffering from congestive heart failure. Joe’s death forces Lee to return to his roots that he tried so hard to forget after a horrific tragedy. Lee is then forced to be the legal guardian of his brothers teenage son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges.
Lee then becomes Patrick’s chauffeur between band practice and dates with multiple girlfriends. We learn Lee and Patrick’s history through more flashbacks and Patrick as a child his father Joe and Uncle Lee. Patrick’s mother played by the brilliant Gretchen Mol, is an alcoholic who is an embarrassment to the family.
Lee is also forced to deal with his ex wife (Michelle Williams) and plenty of unfinished business.
Lonnergan plays with the timeline just enough to take too long for us figure out where we are. By the time we figure it out, the emotional impact is lost. The script is strong and full of comedic relief, but the real standouts are the performances. This is Casey Afflecks strongest role to date. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler deliver as usual. This perfect cast delivers us real people in real pain.