In Manchester by the Sea, the latest film from award-winning writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, the life of a solitary Boston janitor is transformed when he returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew. The story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, Manchester by the Sea is a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.
After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him.
￼IT’S THE PART OF THE WORLD THAT I KNOW BEST. THE FISHING TOWNS OF MASSACHUSETTS ARE FILLED WITH WORKING-CLASS GUYS STRUGGLING TO GET BY AND THAT FITS THE STORY.
￼THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FATHERS AND SONS IS THE MARROW OF THIS EMOTIONAL MOVIE. THIS IS A TEARJERKER OF A FILM BUT ALSO A JOYOUS ONE.
KENNETH LONERGAN’S ‘MANCHESTER BY THE SEA’ IS AN EXTRAORDINARY SWIRL OF LOVE, ANGER, TENDERNESS AND BRITTLE HUMOR.
REAFFIRMS KENNETH LONERGAN’S POSITION AS ONE OF OUR MOST DARING AND PERCEPTIVE WRITER-DIRECTORS.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Film Review: ‘Manchester by the Sea’
A superb performance by Casey Affleck and a haunting sense of place give flesh and blood to Kenneth Lonergan's emotionally overwhelming third feature.
By Justin Chang
The persistence of grief and the hope of redemption are themes as timeless as dramaturgy itself, but rarely do they summon forth the kind of extraordinary swirl of love, anger, tenderness and brittle humor that is “Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan’s beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama about how a death in the family forces a small-town New Englander to confront a past tragedy anew. That rather diagrammatic description does little justice to Lonergan’s ever-incisive ear for the rhythms of human conversation, as he orchestrates an unruly suite of alternately sympathetic and hectoring voices — all of which stand in furious contrast to Casey Affleck’s bone-deep performance as a man whom loss has all but petrified into silence. Giving flesh and blood to the idea that life goes on even when it no longer seems worth living, “Manchester” may be too sprawling a vision for all arthouse tastes, but Lonergan’s many champions are scarcely the only viewers who will be stirred by this superbly grounded and acted third effort.
Premiering at Sundance 16 years after Lonergan made his prize-winning debut there with “You Can Count on Me,” “Manchester by the Sea” is recognizably of a piece with both that film and its troubled, long-gestating follow-up. Finally released in 2011 after years of legal and logistical wrangling, “Margaret” was a magnificent ruin whose defenders and detractors could nonetheless agree that Lonergan remained one of the most distinctive writing talents on the American indie scene. Although far less likely to polarize than its predecessor, the new film offers a similarly bold merging of ensemble drama and character study, all in service of a story about how a person — and crucially, the surrounding community — choose to deal or not deal with the consequences of a fatal mistake. The various and venerable spirits of “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Ordinary People” and “In the Bedroom” may hover over this movie in wintry setting and theme, but “Manchester by the Sea” is very much its own singular, seething creation.
We first encounter Lee Chandler (Affleck) as a hard-working, taciturn Boston janitor/handyman, whose daily routine of unclogging toilets and painting walls offers scant distraction from the throes of some all-consuming private anguish. Whether on the job or at a bar after work, Lee isn’t one for small talk, and he seems more inclined to converse with his fists whenever push comes to shove. Gray skies and falling snow have rarely looked so forlorn; this truly is the winter of Lee’s discontent, and clearly the latest of many. When he receives the news that his beloved older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died of a heart attack, he doesn’t seem to grow any more solemn or inarticulate than he already is, even as he makes the lonely drive up to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the Massachusetts hometown that cruel and as-yet undisclosed circumstances forced him to abandon years earlier.
Those circumstances are gradually shaded in through a steady succession of flashbacks to happier times, and they’re not woven into the main drama so much as dropped in, with stark, discomfiting abruptness. We see Lee enjoying idyllic afternoons with Joe and his son, Patrick (Ben O’Brien), sailing their rickety old boat in the Manchester harbor; Joe receiving the diagnosis of congestive heart failure that presumably drove his wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol), to hit the bottle and ultimately end their marriage; Lee playing the role of fun-loving family man to his loving but exasperated wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and their three young children; and, in a harrowingly sad sequence, the pointless, unspeakable tragedy that drove Lee to his current life of remote solitude.
The use of flashbacks to connect emotional fragments and convey narrative detail can too easily become a screenwriter’s crutch, and it will take time for attentive audiences to adjust to the herky-jerky rhythms of “Manchester by the Sea”; this is not a film overtly concerned with easing you into its world of sorrow. But gradually enough, the pieces start to snap ever more absorbingly into place, and the blunt matter-of-factness with which Lonergan pivots between past and present comes to make a deeper thematic sense. For those, like Lee, who have endured the very worst, neither the present nor the future can offer any relief from the past, and a sudden near-accident or a poorly chosen word can bring the most painful memories rushing back to the surface.
An American filmmaker unusually attuned to the messiness and clumsiness of most everyday interaction, Lonergan steers Lee and his few remaining friends and family members through the forced, awkward rites of bereavement. But Lee is completely unprepared for the bombshell that, per Joe’s wishes, he is the legal guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges) — now a popular, sometimes temperamental and perpetually horny teenager for whom the full realization of his father’s passing clearly has yet to fully register. Presently, the lad remains mostly concerned with being a hockey star, playing in his rock band, trying to get into the pants of two different girlfriends, and making sure that his Uncle Lee doesn’t mess things up for him too badly.
Just as “Manchester by the Sea” avoids the pitfalls of that most overworked of dramatic templates, the death-of-a-child meller, so it mercifully avoids devolving into one of those tidy, odd-couple therapy exercises where two mismatched souls each become the healing that the other needs. Instead the movie is focused, honestly and entirely, on how Lee and his fellow survivors cope with the here and now, all of them stumbling forward one day at a time and realizing the world doesn’t slow down for their benefit. Most of them probably know it already: These are people with hard minds and thick skins, and nearly all of them speak in the foul-mouthed, salty-surly idiom that is as much a fixture of their milieu as the biting cold and the briny sea air (conveyed with an almost palpable texture and forlorn grace by the brilliant d.p. Jody Lee Lipes).
Lonergan arranges all these raucous voices into a chorus of overlapping lines and halting cadences, and on more than one occasion you may find yourself wishing some of them would shut up already. That extends even to the music, courtesy of composer Lesley Barber and music supervisor Linda Cohen, which adds yet another deliberate layer of cacophony: There are moments when a classical piece or an old blues standard rise to a pitch well beyond that of mere background accompaniment. Only a wordless, beautifully harmonized vocal performance, recurring at key intervals, offers the respite of something resembling silence.
Most of the likely criticisms of Lonergan’s film will likely center on its wild swings from mournful, minor-key drama to tart, tetchy comedy, which would make sense if the events being depicted naturally lent themselves to exacting tonal discipline. But the inelegance of the storytelling here is of the sort that testifies not to a filmmaker’s sloppiness, but rather to the messiness of real life. “Manchester by the Sea” may not be as formally and structurally daring as “Margaret,” but in its steady, forceful accumulation of perspectives, it emerges a movie of similarly symphonic ambitions and fierce, uncompromising performances.
Doing his best and most sustained acting since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Affleck finds the eloquence in his character’s ineloquence; our brief glimpses of his more playful, carefree self throw the enormity of his trauma into stark relief. Yet the performance never feels lifeless or anesthetized; even Affleck’s mumbling evasions are charged with feeling. By the end, we have a clear understanding of Lee Chandler as a good man bravely re-engaging with his former life the only way he knows how, and being honest enough to acknowledge that it may be too much too soon.
Affleck has a terrific foil in the 19-year-old Hedges (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “Kill the Messenger”), playing Patrick as a ball of rowdy, tempestuous adolescent energy who nonetheless submits with surprising ease to his uncle’s instruction, as though recognizing his need for an authority figure in his father’s absence. Chandler is wonderful as Lee’s sturdy, salt-of-the-earth brother; that we always want to see more of him on screen renders his absence all the more haunting. And it wouldn’t be a Lonergan movie if he and his regular collaborator Matthew Broderick didn’t show up, making appearances of an almost comically tossed-off brevity.
While “Manchester by the Sea” is very much about uncles, nephews, fathers and sons, Lonergan, always a superb director of actresses, gives the women in his ensemble their due. It’s been a while since Williams had a role this good, but she’s lost none of her unerring knack for emotional truth in the meantime, and she has one astonishing scene that rises from the movie like a small aria of heartbreak. And as Patrick’s mother, Mol gets one short but powerful late moment in which she tries to reconnect with the son she barely knows, and her words seem to distill the energy and emotion of this remarkable movie into one line: “You don’t have to be so formal.” As Lonergan knows, it’s often hard enough just to be human.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:
AN AMERICAN CLASSIC
Manchester by the Sea: An American Classic
The Chandlers: An American Family
Kenneth Lonergan: An American Master
Lee Chandler: An American Son
Manchester by the Sea: An American Classic
An American Family
An American Master
An American Son
I Dont Understand
I DON'T UNDERSTAND
IN THE INSPIRATIONAL STORY THAT ROLLING STONE CALLS “A PROFOUND ACHIEVEMENT”, GLEASON DIRECTOR CLAY TWEEL CAPTURES THE SPIRIT OF A MAN WHO PERSEVERED IN THE FACE OF OVERWHELMING CHALLENGES. BRIMMING WITH HUMOR AND HEART, THIS WELL-CRAFTED AND INCREDIBLY RAW DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS FORMER NEW ORLEANS SAINTS STAR, STEVE GLEASON AS HE IS DIAGNOSED WITH ALS AT AGE 34 AND DISCOVERS HE IS ABOUT TO BECOME A NEW FATHER. WITH HIS WIFE, MICHEL’S, UNWAVERING SUPPORT GLEASON BECOMES DETERMINED TO LIVE HIS REMAINING YEARS TO ITS FULLEST WHILE BATTLING OVERWHELMING ADVERSITY TO FIND HIS TRUE PURPOSE IN LIFE.
￼￼LIFE IS DIFFICULT. NOT JUST FOR ME OR OTHER ALS PATIENTS. LIFE IS DIFFICULT FOR EVERYONE. FINDING WAYS TO MAKE LIFE MEANINGFUL AND PURPOSEFUL AND REWARDING, DOING THE ACTIVITIES THAT YOU LOVE AND SPENDING TIME WITH THE PEOPLE THAT YOU LOVE - I THINK THAT’S THE MEANING OF THIS HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
A MASTERPIECE. IT IS A FILM TO BE WATCHED, RE-WATCHED, STUDIED AND CELEBRATED.
an emotional powerhouse that is undeniably rewarding.
Tweel has crafted a film that goes into the depths of human anguish and resilience.
Film Review: ‘Gleason’
Clay Tweel's emotionally wrenching documentary chronicles NFL star Steve Gleason's battle with ALS.
By Geoff Berkshire
The devastating effects of ALS are on full display in “Gleason,” an emotional powerhouse of a documentary charting former NFL star Steve Gleason’s battle with the debilitating disorder. With seemingly no restrictions from his subjects, director Clay Tweel delivers far more than just a typical inspirational living-with-disease doc: This is a portrait of a family forced to completely readjust their lives, never flinching from the accompanying fears and frustrations. Tweel masterfully assembles roughly four years of footage, much of it shot by Gleason himself, and the result is painfully raw at times but undeniably rewarding. His name value should provide a commercial stepping stone for a doc with strong potential to score across all platforms; Amazon purchased U.S. rights at Sundance, and will partner with Open Road on theatrical release.
It would’ve been easy to play Gleason’s story for sentimental uplift meant to inspire others to live life to its fullest, or as a feature-length fundraising ad for the Team Gleason charity assisting those living with ALS. “Gleason” may accomplish both of those things anyway, but any such benefits come honestly and without manipulation by inviting viewers along on an intimate journey and holding nothing back.
Already a modern-day folk hero when he played for the New Orleans Saints, thanks to a pivotal blocked punt during the team’s first game following Hurricane Katrina, Gleason became a symbol of courage in the sports world when he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 34. The diagnosis was almost immediately followed by the news that his wife, free-spirited artist Michel Varisco Gleason, was pregnant with their first child.
Intent on leaving his offspring something to remember him by before his disease progressed too far (his life expectancy was as little as a few years), Gleason begins taping video journals full of advice, observations and lessons about life, as well as general updates on his own health. A documentary was already under discussion (filmmaker Sean Pamphilon was originally attached to the project), but entrusting anyone with footage so vulnerable and revealing couldn’t have been an easy call.
Especially as the years go on, the disease intensifies and Gleason’s physical condition deteriorates to the point when he can no longer hold his son or take care of his own basic functions (as demonstrated in a frank sequence involving a jolly nurse who arrives to give him an enema). The toll all this takes on Varisco, who is simultaneously trying to raise a toddler, couldn’t be clearer. Seeing two charismatic and adventurous souls reduced to nearly wordless squabbling speaks volumes about living with ALS.
There’s a richly comic streak to the film, too, as Gleason, Varisco and family friend and designated caregiver Blair Casey use humor to offset their situation, and the film makes a viewer feel like a part of what Varisco describes as their “badass unit” — which only makes the story’s more serious elements hit even harder.
Since the project has its origins in the birth of Gleason’s son, Rivers, it’s only appropriate that Tweel (who edited with Brian Palmer) uses the relationship between fathers and sons to shape the narrative. Gleason’s own father, Mike, admits that his son grew up in a “pretty dysfunctional marriage” and his own coping journey — from visiting a faith healer to revealing his greatest challenge is accepting his son might die — is among the film’s most moving threads.
But there are many such threads expertly woven into a piece that earns its place in the pantheon of male weepies several times over. That’s not to say there’s a gender barrier to being touched by Gleason’s struggles, but simply that this is a film grown men of any background will not be ashamed to admit moves them to tears. As if to prove that point, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder chokes up on camera when superfan Gleason conducts a pointed interview about Vedder’s nonexistent relationship with his father.
Vedder’s bandmate Mike McCready provides the original song “Hoping and Healing,” which complements several well-chosen tracks including two from Pearl Jam and the Head and the Heart’s “Rivers and Roads.” The overall tech package is solid enough, but the draw here is the sheer volume of footage Gleason made available — so much that extra material carries over throughout the entire end credits.
gleason: live with purpose
gleason: live with purpose
gleason: live with purpose - Clay Tweel
gleason: live with purpose - Arian Foster
Best of Both Worlds
What it's all about
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
FATHER & SON
THINK FOR YOURSELF