Manchester By The Sea is one of the most difficult movies I have watched for a very long time. I don’t mean it is bad, far from it, it is excellent, it is just that the subject matter does not so much touch a nerve as grab that nerve, throw acid on it and then dance around. It is a very emotional master work, as if Plath, Camus and Arthur Miller sat down to write the most depressing thing they could. Which of course, like Manchester By The Sea, I would be all over.
The story deals with a teenager losing his father to a cardiac arrest and how his world changes and how he handles it. The twist here is that he seems to handle it rather well, until bizarre things trigger him, like seeing food in the freezer and knowing that his father’s body is currently in one down at the morgue. Ouch. Mostly the emotional gravitas comes from Casey Affleck, in perhaps a career best performance as the brother of the departed, who suddenly finds he has been made the legal guardian, even though he can barely look after himself, let alone a youngster who he certainly loves, but finds hard to understand.
Casey’s character turns to drink and self harm for the answers and so when he should be their for his nephew, he is in the bar, getting into fights with random people. This is not to make, nor does it make the brother look weak or uncaring, the complete opposite, it is obvious that he cares too much and finds himself in an alien situation, where his brother, the adult in the relationship is gone and he does not know how to juggle the necessary balls.
How does Manchester By The Sea rate in the Oscar battle? It is a better drama than Moonlight and Casey will certainly challenge Ryan Gosling for best actor, even though La La Land is the more likely to win the Best Picture and be something you come back to. Yet it is this film that will leave you reeling and thinking about life, death and everything in between. It is far from a party movie but is a beautiful piece of modern cinema that has left itself in my heart.