MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Film Review, 54th New York Film Festival

By Senior Editor Kadia Goba, December 5, 2016

The gloomy opening shot of a cold Manchester Bay poetically provides a scenic tipoff of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s two-hour, 15-minute film about the doldrums and calamities of the film’s characters in this New England coastal town.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) breaks away from his melancholic persona only to express anger or extreme discomfort, a personality not befitting his new responsibility of guardian to his nephew who has recently lost his dad, Lee’s older brother. The challenges of coping with his past and the irony of caring for his nephew, in light of his past, fuels this small town story with its complex dilemmas.

Affleck does a wonderful job of mirroring the gloominess and distance that resonates throughout the film. The story unfolds methodically to reveal the source of his pain.

The now fatherless nephew, Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges) is eager to have sex, play hockey and have sex. Patrick doesn’t appear deeply shocked by the death of his father, probably because of his dad’s long time battle with congestive heart failure. It’s the interaction between uncle and nephew that adds periodic bouts of comic relief to an otherwise mundane group of coastal New Englanders.

The two characters, as they make an effort to coexist in their new reality of parent-father, nephew-son, discover each other’s eccentricities, which provoke giggling.

The stroller scene with Randi Chandler (Michelle Williams), Lee Chandler’s ex-wife, is gripping and heartfelt in the brief encounter with Lee. It is a terribly emotional reprieve to the humdrum that the film will have established at this point. Her performance punctuates the unveiling that gives insight to the morose undertone of the story.

It’s amazing the multiple layers of tragic sadness and conflict Lonergan introduces throughout a single film; a technique normally used by comedy and thriller writers — yet this story doesn’t read as a tragedy at all.

During a Q & A at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center, Lonergan, responds to a question about objects falling objects in the movie – a gurney haphazardly entering an ambulance or a whole chicken that falls out of the freezer despite nephew Patrick’s numerous attempts at pushing it in the freezer. He described those instances as fallible “impressions of reality when the world is just not lining up for you”  – a theme that resonates throughout the film.


Kadia Goba can be reached at