Scott Bailey’s review published on Letterboxd :
Manchester by the Sea is an emotionally gut-wrenching and honest story about the after-effects of grief directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
Lee Chandler is a man who is an emotionally distant from the outside world, and struggles day-to-day with stress as well as struggling to communicate with people. After being informed that his brother had a heart attack and later died before he could reach the hospital. He is forced to move to his former hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea where he has to take care of his 16-year-old nephew, where he is forced to confront his own traumatic past.
Manchester-by-the-Sea is an emotionally rich and poignant film with beautiful performances from pretty much the entire cast. Casey Affleck gives an emotionally gutting performance as Lee Chandler and I think this was by far the best performance from a male actor I have seen all year. He's given a tough role here where he plays a character that is seemingly incapable of communicating and emotionally just shuts down and I was consistently riveted by his performance. It is just so subtle, and from the very start of the film the way he puts emotions across with simple facial expressions is just excellent. Even before knowing anything about him, it is painfully clear that he is an emotionally broken man.
This film in my opinion has a great way of putting across the after effects of grief and it has an honest way of putting across how people are effected by it in different ways. None of the characters in this film handle it in the same way. Michelle Williams as Lee's former wife for example has an excellent scene for example where she has a public outburst, which is equally as convincing as the way Affleck hides his emotions away. That scene in particular is worth the price of admission alone. She may not be in the film as much, but she does leave a lasting impact.
I also have to mention Lucas Hedges as Lee's 16-year-old nephew Patrick, who Lee has to take care of and is unable to truly provide emotional support for because of his own personal demons. He tries to get through it, by just living an ordinary life and shutting away his personal grief, and the way it manifests in how is triggered by a moment that at first seemed trivial and almost comical, it was just so convincing to me that it almost brought me to tears. I also enjoyed any scene he had with Affleck as, the way they work off of each other leads to some of the lighter, sometimes hilarious as well as some of the most heartbreaking moments.
It is beautifully filmed too, and I almost felt like every beautiful wide shot of the seaside of Manchester-by-the-Sea tells an emotional story in itself. The classical music here is absolutely wonderful, but its the way it's used that makes in truly stand out. It is emotionally powerful and haunting, yet it never once felt manipulative in any way. Most of the emotional scenes in this film have no music in them whatsoever. Never once did I feel like I was being told how to feel, the is no cue to tell you when an emotional scene is coming either which makes them hit as hard as a tragedy does in real life.
I also liked that while emotionally it is a sad film, there are still plenty of times where there are also some genuinely funny moments. Part of what made this so emotionally powerful to me was seeing how real and lifelike all the characters were. It is so true to life that it is easy to forget that you are watching performances and not real life happening in front of you.
One thing I didn't realise when I was watching the film is how some scenes are actually flashing back into the past, and I actually only realised it in the last 10 minutes of the film. I thought about it afterwards and it actually made me think about the whole film in a different light. I actually need to re-watch this film to see if I can pick up more on how they are edited together because it is very subtle with it, and there was one emotionally heavy scene in particular which I will not spoil, where I actually found myself a little bit confused at the narrative after. Even with that nit-pick though there was still more than enough there to keep me invested even then, and the more I'm processing my feelings on the film, the more outstanding I think it is.
This part isn't really reviewing the film, but I really feel the need to mention this. I connected so deeply with the performances in this film, that it really brought home to me my own personal grief that I struggled with pretty much all last year. I was heavily depressed over the death of both of my grandparents which happened over the space of 3 years. I was close to them, but eventually I had to move to a different town where I lived far away from them. Not only did I grieve over this, but I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt over the fact that I didn't get to see them much in the last years of their lives despite the fact I had no control over it. I've sometimes felt like the only way I could truly express myself is by going to movies, losing myself in a story for a couple of hours and then talking abound it to people I meet afterwards, and posting on sites like this one!
Films like this may be crushingly sad and hard to digest at times, but they are also so important to me because it really puts life into perspective. This may not have been a flawless film, but it was such an emotionally staggering experience that rating this lower than 5/5 simply would not have sat right with me. This is achingly beautiful!