MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – Review by Susan Granger

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“Guilt is a tireless horse. Grief ages into sorrow and sorrow is an enduring rider,” wrote Dean Koontz – a quote which perfectly describes the tone of Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Even before this story begins, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has suffered unimaginable tragedy. Now his beloved older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), a Cape Ann fisherman, has died, and Lee has been named guardian of Joe’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Read on…

That means surly Lee, who has been working as an apartment janitor/handyman in Quincy, outside Boston, must return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea, the working class suburb whose tight-knit residents view him as a social pariah.

While Lee wants to do right by his family, he’s reluctant to move back to a place that’s filled with painful memories and the inevitability of running into his foul-mouthed ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), who has re-married and is expecting a baby.

But rebellious Patrick is determined to stay on the North Shore, where he’s a popular high school jock who plays in a band and has numerous girl-friends.

Working from his original screenplay, director Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”) creates a poignant American melodrama, adroitly inter-weaving complicated flashbacks with comedic moments.

Lonergan’s authenticity is undeniable: the truth is in the nuanced details, like Lee and Patrick bickering about moving to Boston while walking down the street in the freezing cold after making Joe’s funeral arrangements and forgetting where they parked the car.

“Are you fundamentally unsound?” Patrick asks his cantankerous uncle.

Casey Affleck’s minimalist self-loathing deserves an Oscar nomination, along with Michelle Williams’ wrenching supporting turn. The ensemble also includes Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Matthew Broderick and Anna Baryshnikov (Mikhail Baryshnikov’s daughter).

FYI: The $8.5 million film was originally conceived by Matt Damon and John Krasinski. But they had schedule conflicts, and it was essential to shoot during the New England winter.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Manchester by the Sea” is a mournful 9, an unflinching, emotionally devastating tear-jerker.

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