I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. See how they run like pigs from a gun See how they fly I'm crying
Lee Chandler moping again
Mediocrity by the Sea
"Manchester by the Sea" will win Oscars: it pulls at the hearts strings, children die, and the main character, Lee Chandler played by Casey Affleck, appears to have a mental disorder beyond his grief.
The film contains too much exposition; things don't happen on screen, they are talked about, and the dialogue isn't good enough to hold one's interest. In one scene, Lee Chandler's ex-wife (played by the serviceable Michelle Williams) says to him, "I said such terrible things to you." So, why not show a flashback with her insulting him? Show what transpired. That’s one thing film does best! Don't have the character say it, show it. I suspect they couldn't come up with something shocking enough for her to say so they didn't bother.
Another example is when there is a horrible accident, a life-changing tragic event. Why not show how that happened, again, in flashback? Was it too expensive to have Mr. Affleck on the screen for an extra minute?
Lee Chandler is clearly an alcoholic, but no one addresses it. The ex-wife still has a thing for him, and I can't see why. He's not great looking, he's not funny, he's not wealthy, and he's an alcoholic. Perhaps the writer didn't see Lee's constant need for beer or his journey to get beer that lead to the films major turning point, as signs of Chandler's alcoholism. How about his bar fights? What makes us care about him? I don't.
His situation is pushed on us, demanding we feel sympathy for him. It's forced and not authentic. He's not even entertaining when he mopes. Some back-story about his life in Manchester might have helped us empathize with him. As it is, he's a jerk who drinks, fights and mopes.
There were problems with the few flashbacks we did see and editing. There is no clean transition made between today and the past, and Lee looks just the same in both the present and past, leaving us to guess when events were occurring. At first, it took a while to realize it was a flashback. The second flashback was less confusing but still not obvious. It should be obvious when a flashback occurs, not a puzzle. Maybe I'm jaded or maybe his tragedy is not that unique. And, just in case you didn't feel the tragedy, the overblown music throws the mood at you when silence would have been a better choice.
The cinematography of the wide open spaces over the sea is spectacular, but the camera work during the rest of the film is pedestrian. Casey Affleck acts like a lost puppy throughout the film, as if his older brother had just admonished him for something and he couldn't get over the scolding.
Affleck expertly moves between moping and anger, showing little emotional range between those two extremes. But heck, the Academy likes mopers, so that should score him some Oscar points. And he's a white moper, more points. And he's slightly mental. More points.
Patrick, his brother's orphaned son, is played adeptly by Lucas Hedges. Mr. Hedges does the best with the material, but it's not enough. Everyone but Patrick is dull. The story is slow, but I don't mind watching a slowly developing story. "Moonlight" is a good example of how a film can develop deliberately with success. "Manchester by the Sea" is like watching paint dry. The film has too many transition scenes of Lee driving around. How about this: car leaves drive way, cut to, car arriving at the destination. Sure, the film did some of that, but there were too many dead spots of Lee thinking, hedging and milling about. It's true to life, but so is paint drying, and I don't want to watch that either.
Rating: Rent It
Many people love this movie, but I have to be brutally honest. "Manchester by the Sea" is dull, stilted and not compelling. The plot and tragedy in the film are forced and phony. The film stays on the surface of the characters and never dives deeply enough into Lee Chandler's life and personality for us to care. The only thing you will miss by seeing it on the small screen are a few visually appealing establishing shots of the sea.