MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)
Even sadder than Lonergan’s previous sad dramas, this one lingers on tiny details that underline the truth that life moves on despite fragile human emotion. Luckily for the audience, the punishing moroseness is leavened by lots of humor, and you may find yourself laughing more at this than any crushing work of nihilism you’ve encountered in recent memory.
Credit to the two leads, and while Affleck has been a marvel for over a decade, it’s Lucas Hedges who impresses the most — he embodies a real teenage kid in a way that’s refreshing compared to how 16 year-olds have fared on American screens of late. He’s cocky and ambitious, a smart-ass, immature in a real way, but never condescended to or treated with kid gloves by Lonergan’s story. Hedges understands how the rhythm of Lonergan scenes often involves quickly escalating anger and arguments, followed just as quickly by defused understanding and let’s-move-on reconciliation. Affleck may have a more difficult job, though, since he has to portray a deadened soul, wrecked and alone, and communicate the character of someone who doesn’t want to communicate. (I lost track of the number of times he says “I don’t want to talk about this right now”).
Curious editing choices by Jennifer Lame (veteran of the last three Noah Baumbach features) make some of the dialogue scenes feel choppy, and do a disservice to the actors — especially Williams, who is absolutely stunning in her brief screen time, but whose great takes are disrupted by cuts that make little sense. And I don’t think I was emotionally affected the way Longeran wanted me to be (not like I was for something like JAMES WHITE, which is a tall order I realize). But the cumulative message that a place and its memories are stronger than anyone’s ability to deny is one that sticks, and makes the characters’ struggles to just get through life by any means necessary both humanist and extremely depressing.