Now on Blu-ray: The Heart-Wrenching Human Drama of ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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Manchester by the Sea

Awards season is funny. When writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea opened in limited release last November, it seemed to be a frontrunner for an array of awards. Granted, Manchester by the Sea has garnered a number of nominations, including six Academy Award nods, but it lost that mystique of being a prohibitive favorite in a variety of categories. Just because La La Land and Moonlight have shot to the front of the awards conversation doesn’t mean that Lonergan’s powerful drama is any less great than it was when it debuted, just that it has fallen out of favor with fickle awards voters. Now on Blu-ray and Digital HD, more people will be able to access the heartbreaking drama of Manchester by the Sea, one of 2016’s best movies.

The film tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an emotionally withdrawn person who must return to his hometown following the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Before his brother’s death, Lee is working as a handyman outside of Boston, doing modest repairs and drowning his sorrows during the evening. Returning to his hometown is opening old wounds for Lee, and the fact that Joe has placed in his will that Lee shall become the guardian for his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) opens even further wounds. Those wounds all call back to a tragedy that devastated a family and led to the dissolution of Lee’s marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams). Lee must face tragedy past and present as he attempts to figure out that next step in his life and whether or not that next step includes Patrick.

Much of the emotional potency of Manchester by the Sea comes from the storytelling techniques employed by Kenneth Lonergan. There’s something lingering behind the sad eyes of Lee Chandler, and the mystery of the tragedy is slowly revealed in a series of flashbacks that occur throughout the film. However, Lonergan doesn’t hold back on the major reveal of the film, the horrible revelation comes around the film’s halfway point allowing the audience to further understand Lee as he handles the fallout of his brother’s death. This further adds to the emotional punch of the film in the heartbreaking scenes where Lee and Randi talk for the first time in years, the two handling their grief in different ways as they look into each other’s eyes amidst the tears.

While the subject matter of Manchester by the Sea is quite painful, it’s not an endless parade of depressing moments. Kenneth Lonergan injects a fair amount of humor into his human drama about the living in the wake of death. As played by Lucas Hedges, Patrick gets a number of laughs as the teenage foil to Lee’s perennial sad sack. He’s a teenager that gets in his wisecracks to his uncle and gets under Lee’s skin. Patrick gets even more laughs in scenes where we see his rock band and his awkward moments in trying to have sex with his girlfriend as Lee and her mother are downstairs in a moment of even more awkward socializing. Great movies, even heartbreaking dramas, are always funnier than you think and Manchester by the Sea benefits greatly by cutting through the tears with a well-timed laugh throughout its story.

Among the special features on the Blu-ray of Manchester by the Sea is “A Conversation with Kenneth Lonergan,” which is an audio commentary track where the writer-director chats with the producer of the Blu-ray disc. Throughout the conversation Lonergan gives information regarding how scenes changed from the page to the screen, as well as the little touches that actors brought to the forefront of his human drama. There are a handful of deleted scenes on the disc, and it’s very easy to see why these moments were excised from the final cut. Finally, there’s a modest documentary on the making of the film where the stars, producers, and Kenneth Lonergan give their opinion on the nature of the story and work that went into bringing to the screen.

The Oscars, like everything else in this modern world, are political. After all, studios organize campaigns to garner votes for their movies. Though it may be a more powerful film of robust human themes, Manchester by the Sea may have run into an awards show freight train in La La Land, the dazzling musical about Los Angeles is likely to earn more Oscars because Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. It’d be a shame if Kenneth Lonergan’s powerful screenplay wasn’t honored or that the personal (and indefensible) issues of Casey Affleck overshadows a truly incredible performance. Whether or not Manchester by the Sea earns any awards doesn’t change the fact that this is a powerful, haunting piece of cinema that tells a story about humans dealing with human drama in realistic manner. Kenneth Lonergan captures the essence of real people in tragic situations – sometimes people alternate between laughter and tears – and tells a story that will endure because it is so deeply rooted in emotional honest.

Manchester by the Sea
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

A powerful, haunting drama about grief, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea was one of 2016’s best films, featuring an incredible performance by Casey Affleck.

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