A man is given guardianship of his nephew following the death of his brother in Manchester by the Sea. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a Boston caretaker, who returns home to the coastal town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts after the sudden death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Lee soon finds out that Joe made Lee the legal guardian of Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). However, Lee is haunted by a past tragedy, which resulted in the end of his marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), which causes some conflict with Patrick, who does not want to leave Manchester.
Manchester by the Sea is a drama that tackles grief and loss in many forms. Years ago, Lee Chandler moved away from his coastal hometown of Manchester, following a tragic event that both shook him to the core and made him the subject of rumour among the townsfolk. Lee’s only constant support system was his brother Joe, who helped Lee out during tough times. However, Joe suffered from congestive heart failure and it was only a matter of times before he would suffer a fatal heart attack. When the time does come, Lee is forced to return home and make the hard decision about whether he is going to move back to Manchester and be the legal guardian of his nephew Patrick or if the pain of the past is too much to handle.
Manchester by the Sea is the type of film that you see and then want to receive a hug right afterwards. There is some very depressing subject matter at play in this film, particularly since Lee is still recovering from the worst event of his life when he receives the call that his brother died. Joe is shown in the film primarily through flashbacks, which shows that he was often the glue that held Lee together during tough times. Another figure from Lee’s past is his ex-wife Randi, who is desperate to reconnect with Lee after the horrible events that ended their marriage.
It would be hard for me to write about Manchester by the Sea without addressing the elephant in the room that has become a big focus of the current awards season. That is of course the 2010 sexual harassment lawsuits against star Casey Affleck, which resurfaced in response to the praise this film has been getting. All I am going to say about this is that I am one of those people that tries to separate the art from the artist. While Casey Affleck may indeed be a sexist scumbag, I tired not to let that fact cloud my response to film. Quite frankly, if I disavowed every performance by actors who are horrible human beings, there probably wouldn’t be very many left to choose from.
That all said, I am still going my recommendation to Manchester by the Sea. While I wouldn’t exactly call it an awards quality film, it still presses all the right buttons when it comes to generating an emotional response.