Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Welcome Readers to another DOUBLE TAKE review, where two Merc writers will offer their thoughts on the same film side by side to compare and contrast their perspectives. This time we have Jonathan Youngblood and Ryan McKenna reviewing the massively critically acclaimed film and Oscar hopeful, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA!

Manchester by the Sea is a family drama set in New England that follows a relationship between an uncle and a nephew after the nephew’s father dies and the uncle is tasked with being the nephew’s guardian whilst struggling with personal demons of his own. The film, which debuted at Sundance this year, is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, and Gretchen Mol.


The first trailer for Manchester by the Sea sent shockwaves down my spine. Casey Affleck, in what appeared to be the performance of a lifetime, shone as he captured my attention with his distanced, awkward role. You could feel the pain and the loss in his voice even in the handful of moments shown. Everything about this movie excited me – from new faces in the acting community, to a touching story about family and love. All the buzz going into it had me prepared for a touching, emotionally-rich experience that would reverberate in through my heart all the way to the top of my 2016 charts.

Then I watched it.

Maybe it was because I had just watched Kubo and the Two Strings and Loving before seeing it. Maybe that set the bar too high. Maybe I went in expecting something unfair due to watching the trailers too many times. Maybe this movie just wasn’t for me and I’m missing something critically important to understanding the complexities of Manchester by the Sea.

However, as it stands right now, Manchester is my Most Disappointing Film of 2016. I left the theater feeling empty inside.

Let’s start with the positives: Casey Affleck was truly outstanding. I am completely in favor of Casey taking the Academy Award for Best Actor, for he poured his heart fully into this role, embodying the character in a beautiful way. Lucas Hedges, a relative newcomer to Hollywood in his first major role, played off of Affleck as an immature teenager in a way that could only have been accomplished by a mature actor. These two carried the movie on their shoulders in an admirable way.

More positives? The score was breathtaking. In high-intensity moments, the music would swell in ways that pulled you into the quiet heart of the film. Certain visuals stick with me in unforgettable ways. Without diving into spoilers, I can also say that the way in which Act Two blends together and reveals the undertones of the plot is wonderful.

So, all that being said, why did I find Manchester by the Sea so mediocre? First, when compared to the passion of Affleck and Hedges, all other performances fell completely flat. The plot was (purposefully) convoluted, which I usually appreciate. However, in Manchester, half the time it was done in a way that just burned of pretentious artistry and not artistry for the sake of crafting a compelling story.

However, let’s talk about my real issue with Manchester by the Sea: the reason I was so excited to see it came down to the heart it seemed to be so ready to show the world. I have seen few movies with so little emotional depth in comparison to its emotional potential. Now, I am definitely not saying that Manchester is an emotionally-vacant movie. Three scenes stick out to me (all three involving Affleck and Hedges interacting) as powerful and authentic. Everything else about Manchester felt ridiculously forced and artificial for me. Now, this could be intentional, for an aspect of Manchester’s story revolves around a man trying to appear more stable than he really is. This could just be me not understanding the emotional beats. However, in my view, the sheer lack of character development (for I would argue that no one in this movie really, truly grows in any direction except for toward each other – an important, but incomplete transformation for a movie involving such high psychological stakes) and the forced artificial tone left me hungry to feel something for characters that, in the end, felt more cardboard than the Sing animals that adorned the hallways of my AMC Theater.

Manchester is not a bad movie. It has amazing moments and one of the best leading male performances of the year. However, it is by no means a Best Picture. It is so deeply disappointing that a family-centered drama of love and loss falls into the barely-fresh category for me. In the end, it reminded me of a movie you’d see on the Hallmark Channel (a top tier one, of course) with a few actors that were way too good for their movie.

Jonathan’s Score: 6/10


Leaving the theater after seeing Manchester by the Sea I was very unsure how to feel, maybe more so than with any other film I’ve watched in 2016. The film has been critically touted since January and I definitely went into it with high expectations. Some were met, others not so much. That tension is why I struggled with settling on a position on this film initially. Overall, I think the film is good but wastes much of the greatness it had before it.

The biggest and most obvious positive for this film is the performance by Casey Affleck, playing the uncle (Lee Chandler). He is absolutely superb in this film and rightly deserves the critical praise he has gotten. He plays a character understandably reserved with some deep emotional struggles and thoughtfulness that was extremely effective and genuine and made me latch on to certain emotional beats in the story. He is also benefitted by solid supporting performances by Lucas Hedges, the nephew, and Kyle Chandler, in limited scenes as the brother. The way these different characters play and interact is really special and adds a lot of meaningful significance to the film.

I also thought that this film weaved together a creative and powerful emotional story. There is a point at which the film turns and made me rethink much of what I had seen prior. The way this is deftly handled and delivered made the emotional beat extremely powerful and caused nearly everyone in my theater to weep. It was a total gut punch and made me fall hook, line, and sinker for this movie and the story they were telling.

The final positive I want to mention is the sense of place. I live in Massachusetts and, though I haven’t lived here long, I very much saw a place I know in this film. It felt real and tangible. It was beautiful, yet still real. This is something that is very difficult to achieve with a film, and the way Lonergan and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes shot this film made that extremely effective and made the realism in the story all the more powerful.

With all those positives, why didn’t I love this film? I felt how I did because I thought it ended extremely poorly and I thought there were many performances that came off as flat in the film. The ending of this film is extremely abrupt and I didn’t get the resolution I needed as a viewer to meaningfully deal with the emotional story that had been revealed to me. In addition, particularly early on, the vast majority of the supporting performance, especially by Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol, were incredibly flat and ineffective. I just didn’t care about them throughout the film. Williams and Affleck have a particularly special in the film that was powerful, but otherwise she didn’t have a lot to do and didn’t shine for the most part when she did.

On top of those issues, I don’t know if this is a film I want to watch again. There is good to be found in the film, no doubt, but it is emotionally challenging without some much needed payoff this would be a hard film to revisit and one I am not sure I will ever which is as strong a strike as any against a film.

Overall, I had a tough time, but I settled with an upper-mid type score because there is a lot of really good elements, but it largely wasted those with a weak conclusion.

Ryan’s Score: 7.5/10

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