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Sundance Review: Manchester by the Sea

It's never too soon to start talking awards season...even if the awards season you're discussing is a year away. Manchester by the Sea, as well as Casey Affleck's lead performance that the film hinges on, is already getting a ton of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival with talk about the Oscars in 2017. Speculating so early on isn't exactly anything new. After all, everyone is always trying to find the next big thing before everyone else....especially at Sundance. So is the hype justifiable or are people throwing around the word "masterpiece" again?

Manchester by the Sea centers around Casey Affleck's Lee Chandler, a man who unexpectedly finds himself as the guardian to his nephew after his brother passes way. Chandler returns to his former hometown to settle the affairs of his late brother, but finds that coming back isn't as easy as it seems. Cue mysterious backstory. What drew me to Manchester was a fine cast in addition to Affleck (Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler are both great in supporting roles) and a plot that though the subject matter has been done before (Raising Helen, No Reservations), no one ever seems to get it right. No movie that attempted dealing with the specific theme central to Manchester has really sunk their teeth into the drama. But never fear! Director Kenneth Lonergan knows how to play with all the audience's emotions as we view the different stories unfold within their respective times.

In my head, I pictured a heavy drama...but what I didn't expect to find would be some really nice moments of humor to lighten the proceedings. That said...while I thought it would be heavy, I certainly didn't expect the film to be as utterly heartbreaking as it was. A couple scenes towards the end, (one in particular) really stuck with me in how real they were portrayed. Characters talk in circles, stammer and repeat themselves. Nothing feels rehearsed. Manchester is a movie that feels lived in...and for a movie such as this, that quality is vital. Affleck isn't just experiencing the tragedy that begins the film, but he is constantly trying to battle his inner demons from the past that keep him from living his life in the present. And yet, with all the feelings we know he has as a result of what he's been through, Affleck remains stoic and emotionless...refusing to verbalize the way he's feeling (only occasionally giving us a glimpse with some moments of physical outburst.) And yet--with his performance, we *know* he feels quite a lot, even if he's not showing it or talking about it. The movie is nearly perfect and among some of the best films I've ever seen at Sundance, but it's not without its flaws. Some of the editing and musical score choices really take you out of the film, and I have to admit, I hope that some of these things are changed for distribution. Also for my own tastes, I felt that the profanity was a little too gratuitous...especially for some of the teenage characters. But then again, this is Boston! Those qualms aside, Manchester by the Sea is a truly wonderful and heartbreaking film. It's definitely set the standard high for the movies I watch the rest of the year.



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