Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Manchester by the Sea Review

It seems like a common theme that when you ask someone what his or her favorite movie of 2016 was, they'll either say "La La Land" or "Manchester by the Sea." I don't mean to be super predictable, but unless "Silence" or "Patriot's Day" spoil the party, I will see both of those this week, "La La Land" and "Manchester by the Sea" are going to be my top two movies of 2016 when I release that list here soon. "Manchester by the Sea" is a movie that I saw a month ago. No, this is not one of those cases like "La La Land" or "Arrival" where I got to see an early screening to write a story. I just made sure to see "Manchester by the Sea" on the first weekend that it showed in Salt Lake City. Then life got super busy in December with my internship finishing and Christmas time, so there's a lot of reviews I didn't get to. I decided to focus my review writing on the major releases in December first, then get to some of the smaller independent films when they got more recognition during awards season. Well, the Golden Globes happened on Sunday and Oscar nominations are coming up here soon, so it's time to deliver these reviews and no place better to start than with "Manchester by the Sea."

It's hard to do this movie justice in a spoiler-free review because the heart and soul of what makes it so great is all in the second half, but I'm going to do my best because I definitely have no desire to spoil this film. Doing so in this instance would completely ruin the emotional impact that the film would have on you while you watch. So I plan on staying away from all that while still getting my point across. This will be a fun challenge. Right off the bat I will say that this is not necessarily a movie that I can recommend everyone rush out and see. It's a movie that cuts deep and touches on some very serious and sensitive subjects in a brutally honest way. It's a movie that will punch you in the gut pretty hard and require a few boxes of tissues to get through. So while with "La La Land" I recommend that everyone go see it because it's a universally targeted movie on the light side of PG-13, "Manchester by the Sea" is not quite the same way. I don't want to say proceed with caution because there's nothing super graphic or disturbing. This is just a very heavy movie emotionally. Bring a box of tissues and prepare yourself for quite the emotionally charged ride.

Forrest Gump once said that life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get next. And while that's a great analogy, comparing life to a box of chocolates might not be the perfect comparison. Unless of course you find a box of chocolates where grenades are hidden with them. Sometimes life unexpectedly blows up in your face and there's nothing you can do about it. On top of that, sometimes things happen that you can't recover from. Not immediately, anyways. That's the overall theme of "Manchester by the Sea." The story follows a man whose brother passes away, leaving his nephew orphaned. In a turn of events that surprises this man, he learns that his brother had left it up to him to be his nephew's new guardian. Don't worry, this isn't the big spoiler that I mentioned earlier. This is the setup of the movie. We are following the story of this uncle and his nephew who are trying to learn to get along and work things out. The uncle just has a whole ton of baggage and isn't the best guardian while the nephew is kind of a punk high school kid who is rather full of himself. Thus it's really interesting to watch these two learn to get along despite the tragedy that's happened to their brother/father.

Casey Affleck is the actor who plays the uncle and the story of his character is a really interesting story to follow here. Here is a man who works as a janitor, is all alone and super depressed. He's not a good person. He's not a good employee. He's not a good uncle. But at the same time, as we are watching this man suffering his way through life, we are also treated to flashbacks of what happened to him. He had everything. He was married to a beautiful wife, played by Michelle Williams. He had a few beautiful young children. He had a lot of good friends. He had a good job. But yet he seemed to take all of that for granted. This is a thing that happens to a lot of people. When they experience a lot of success, they bask in that success and sometimes start drifting off into ways that aren't commendable. You don't realize how good you have things until they are taken away from you. But given that you see him in the present in such a pathetic state of being and you are seeing these flashbacks of him as a happy, successful individual, you know something is coming. Something dramatic happened to this man and we're just waiting to learn what that thing was. There comes a moment in this movie where the two timelines cross and it caused my jaw to drop.

That's as close as I'm getting to that. In a year where Ben Affleck has gotten a lot of deserved press with his phenomenal performance at Batman in "Batman v. Superman," Casey Affleck comes in at the end of the year and steals all the glory away from his older brother. For me anyways. I've got to say that Casey Affleck gives a career defining performance. I've always known that he's existed, but I don't think he's ever given a performance that jumped out to me and made me think that this is a man to watch out for. But he has now. Whenever anyone asks me about Casey Affleck and what he's done, I'm going to point them to "Manchester by the Sea," because he gives an absolutely phenomenal performance. The character he's asked to play is a very complex character that's gone through a whole heck of a lot. There is a ton of emotion required for both the past and the present. It's essentially two different characters that he's playing and he has to be able to capture the full spectrum of both sides of his situation and the final result is a very human performance where you feel for him. I haven't seen every performance yet this year, and there's a few major ones that I have to get to, but so far Casey Affleck has given my personal favorite performance by an actor in 2016.

There's another person in this movie that has received an equal amount of praise as Casey and deservedly so. That is Michelle Williams. There is some debate as to who gave the better performance in this movie. Was Casey Affleck so good because of Michelle Williams? Was it Casey Affleck that carried this movie on his back? In my personal opinion, I think the two elevated each other. There was such bitter, heart-wrenching chemistry between them that each of them enhanced the other's performance, making for one of the most emotionally charged, complex relationships on screen that I've seen. Then you have the performance of Lucas Hedges, the nephew, in addition to these two. This uncle and nephew to not get along. Casey plays quite a frustrating guardian that doesn't know what he was doing and Lucas played a very annoying nephew that was equally as hard to deal with. But I really enjoyed watching that uncle/nephew relationship progress throughout this movie. There was a lot of great drama as well as some naturally hilarious moments as these two interacted. These two were perfect for each other in a way that neither really knew for the majority of the run time.

I've just barely scratched the surface with this movie, yet I don't really feel like diving any deeper. This is an instance where I could do a spoiler review and it would be a much different, more complete review, but since I'm not doing that, you're just going to have to trust me that there's some incredible things that happen in this movie that have caused me to stop and ponder quite a bit on life and the human experience over this past month. Here we have a man that's gone through something crazy that's ruined his life. Now he has to figure out how to handle the situation with him being named guardian over his nephew, who is acting like a typical high school student who clashes quite a bit with his uncle. It's a moving relationship with fascinating character arcs. Crazy things happen in the movie that cause things to get real. The movie punches you in the gut pretty hard and sends you reeling throughout the second half of the movie. Then when you stop and think about things, you realize that this is a very human story that will parallel a lot of people's lives and has themes that are quite profound. All topped off by three excellent performances from Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. This is an absolutely phenomenal film that I feel comfortable awarding a 10/10.

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