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Review Manchester by the Sea of Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is obliged to return home to care for his nephew after his brother dies. Unknowing he is to be the guardian and struggles with the decision. Throughout the movie he recounts past memories that caused him to leave Manchester and distance himself from his past.

Like many avid film fans, I find myself lamenting the lack of nuance and kitchen sink realism in modern American cinema, especially around Oscar season, where the big studios often choose to opt for historical bait and safe bets. Saying that, Manchester-by-the-Sea provides a perfect blueprint for the new era of American low-budget drama.
Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a quiet handyman left to look after his nephew, following the death of his brother Kyle, who still lived in his childhood hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea.
The narrative is simple, and like any good character drama, it hinges on relationships and people, rather than on a simple plot. The film explores the ways that Lee and Patrick, Lee’s nephew, deal with Kyle’s death, and how this creates tension between the two.
What makes these themes and Lee relatable, or at least intriguing, is the central idea of masculinity, the way men process emotions and deal with struggles. There’s the age-old stereotype of the stiff upper lip, but for how long and under how much pressure can a man keep the façade up? Is this approach necessary or effective, and why was it adopted in the first place? Manchester-by-the-Sea starts a conversation, and director/writer Kenneth Lonergan balances the argument without any obvious opinion or blunt resolution at the end. Instead, we are left to simply watch the life of a man play out.
And that’s the rawest form of cinema, a film which shows, not tells. Removing any trace of the author’s hand from the work is a feat for any filmmaker to achieve.
With these challenges, (and making a film like this is especially challenging), Lonergan delivers an understated and slow-burning drama that manages to incorporate funny moments in to what is otherwise a film devoid of comedy. The ability to flip the coin is a long-standing ability of American film and TV, and Manchester-by-the-Sea pulls it off without a hitch. One moment I’d be laughing, the next I’m holding back tears.
Thankfully, this year's awards season had some real highlights. Manchester-by-the-Sea fully deserved its Best Screenplay Oscar, and I hope the exposure opens up a larger market for the genre. Amazon Studios, the producer and distributor, is a newcomer to studio films, (their first release was Chi-Raq in late 2015), and produced and distributed Manchester-by-the-Sea for a modest $8.5million, so it is fully possible that the $61million the film grossed could pave the way for more to come.

-Review by Bejamin Daniels-
-Twitter @peterpib