Patrick Jensen’s review published on Letterboxd :
After his brother Joe's (Kyle Chandler) death, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor living in Boston, becomes the legal guardian of Joe's son Patrick, which forces Lee to temporarily move from Boston to Manchester-by-the-Sea, a town that still carries haunting memories of a tragic past for Lee. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is a film that deals with grief, the isolation it can cause, and the absurdities of society's treatment of death. It also happens to be my favorite film of 2016, and it will take a lot from other films to even attempt to dethrone it.
Manchester by the Sea probably has the one main character of a film in 2016 that I found the most relatable. His troubled past, which keeps haunting him and forces him into a state of detachment from his surroundings, as well as his seeming inability to escape his own misery, becomes a great source for both drama and comedy. Neither becomes over-the-top in any regard, thanks to Lonergan's great direction and writing, which has faith in its audience and never spells out Lee's isolation, instead resorting to shots of isolated boats at sea, and houses with considerable distances to each other spread throughout the titular town. Kudos to the direction and cinematography in this regard, especially since the hard-hitting moments are those of terrible silence and those that show how Lee's surroundings won't acknowledge his own sense of guilt about his past tragedy.
In that sense, it definitely earns its use of humor throughout the film to not only show a glimpses of a lighter tone throughout, as this film had me laughing, despite some terrible events occurring throughout, it is also used as a cinematic device to highlight the bizarre approach to death that society provides Lee over the course of the film. It definitely shows that a death in the family, for better or worse, will lead to many uncomfortable and incomprehensible situations and emotions that are all extremely difficult to communicate.
The acting is some of the most solid stuff I've seen from any film of 2016 (yes, I know, 2017 here in Denmark). Lucas Hedges delivers a breakthrough performance as Patrick Chandler, who manages to be both distasteful (Patrick is a bit of a jerk in this film), yet surprisingly sympathetic, as his own emotions seem to mirror his uncle Lee's own emotions perfectly. Michelle Williams as Randi, Lee's ex-wife, also delivers a strong performance, as her attempts at moving on become rather heartbreaking, as the devastating tragedy she had to suffer through makes it nearly impossible, even as she wants Lee to no longer carry around his guilt. The standout performer though is Casey Affleck. He delivers a great subtle performance, where his face utters more than the minimal choice of words that Lee Chandler uses throughout the film. The drama of the film feels earned because we always have a sense of emotional development, even when no word is uttered, and his inability to connect with any of the people around him, even his ex-wife who was involved in aforementioned past tragedy, is truly convincing and eerily recognizable for myself. Probably my favorite performance of the year 2016.
In conclusion, Manchester by the Sea is my favorite film of 2016. Its great balance of humor and drama, added with some great direction, acting and atmosphere, makes it a film I will always appreciate. This was probably the perfect film to watch for me and my siblings, as our mother sadly passed away last year. I haven't discussed this much on the site, but I have to say that this is a film that captured a lot of the emotions I've been going through over the course of the last year. I can therefore only recommend this to everyone, even if the style of this film isn't to your liking.