Manchester by the Sea is pretentious but fantastic performances and a realistic depiction of what grief really looks like elevates this above the normal Oscar bait.
Title: Manchester by the Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Summary: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.
There are a lot of movies that come out around this time of year that are made with the purpose of winning Oscars. These movies are often called "Oscar bait" and they are so predictable that you can sometimes anticipate what movies are going to do well with the Academy months before the nominations are even announced. Manchester by the Sea looked very much to be a Oscar bait flick; a story of grief with a small cast in an intimate location. However, just because these movies are made with the singular intent of winning awards that doesn't mean they can't be good, too.
This is a movie about grief and what it does to a person. As the movie unfolds we find out what makes Lee (Casey Affleck as cold as the brutal winters of Northern Massachusetts. This is a movie with a central 'mystery' in the sense that we don't know what happened to make Lee infamous along with the rest of the small town or what was the catalyst for him splitting up with his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams). It does a fantastic job of painting the reactions of the people in the town to Lee's presence in that we don't know if what happened is considered a bad or good thing.
Lee isn't the only one going through grief, though, as he's back in town to take care of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after his brother passes away. We see him freak out over a frozen chicken because his father can't be buried right away because of the frozen ground. We see Patrick try his best to go on with his day to day life while having these micro breakdowns when he thinks no one is looking. We think we know where this story is going as we watch Lee struggle with the new responsibilities of being a guardian. We've all seen this story before but the thing that sets Manchester by the Sea above the others is that this feels very real in a similar way The Edge of Seventeen did, only much more depressing.
There are going to be a lot of critics praising this movie in the coming weeks as we get ready for the end of the year awards, and I want to assure you that while it is good I don't think it's great. While the final angle of Manchester by the Sea might be a little different, it is a story that we all know all too well. Affleck is likely going to get a 'best actor' nomination but, judging from the movies that I've seen so far, I don't think a win is very likely. The performance that stood out to me was Williams, who will likely get a 'supporting actress' nomination and, if I had to make a guess, she is likely to win. She isn't on screen much but when she is Williams is truly magnetic.
Manchester by the Sea is Oscar bait but it feels sincere in its message about how human beings deal with tragedy. It was an upsetting movie in the sense that I gasped when we finally found out what happened to Lee. By the end I was surprised that the movie went there and I respected it more for it.