Sunday, February 19, 2017

Video review: "Manchester by the Sea"

Sad movies have a place in our lives. Hollywood hasn’t been making a lot of them in recent years, so people don’t go to them when they do come out, and it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg thing.

The thinking goes that folks only go to the theater to be lifted up out of their workaday miseries.

Horsepucky. Sad movies can be indelible because they show us human beings at their lowest, and then how they find their way back toward the light. The best ones, I think, aren’t stories of total redemption, but lead their suffering characters at least to the crossroads where positive outcomes finally seem plausible, if far from certain.

(Think “Cast Away.” If Tom Hanks makes it off the island and gets back together with Helen Hunt, it becomes a fuzzy life-can-survive melodrama.)

“Manchester By the Sea” is one of the saddest and best movies of 2016. Casey Affleck gives the performance of his career as Lee Chandler, a surly Boston janitor who’s summoned back to his hometown after the death of his brother, Joe. The passing is sudden but not surprising, as Joe had been suffering from a serious heart condition.

However, Lee is stunned to find out that Joe has named him guardian of his son, Patrick (a terrific Lucas Hedges). This had never been discussed between the brothers. Joe has left an adequate financial dispensation for the 16-year-old to finish school and start his adult life. But emotionally, there’s almost nothing in the bank.

Once they were close when Patrick was a little kid, but something has happened in the intervening years. Whatever it was, it’s the sort of thing people don’t like to talk about. All we know is that Lee’s soul is etched with some kind of black mark, as surely as if there were a scarlet letter pinned to his chest.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan wisely makes his movie not about the thing that happened, but how people deal with it in the years that follow. We do not learn exactly what it was until fairly late in the movie, but at this point the whys and wherefores really aren’t all that important.

A terrific supporting cast hits all the right notes, including Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, C.J. Wilson as a caring friend of Joe’s and Gretchen Mol as Patrick’s mother, who turns up after a long absence. Of course, Lee immediately seizes upon her as a way out of his predicament.

It’s OK to feel sad. And it would be truly a pity to miss out on a film as good as this.

Bonus features are merely adequate, and are the same for DVD and Blu-ray editions. There are deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and a conversation with Lonergan.



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