[Screen It]


(2016) (Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges) (R)

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Drama: A man must contend with having to return to his former town following his brother's death that's suddenly left him as the guardian of his teenage nephew.
Lee Chandler (CASEY AFFLECK) once lived in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts with his wife, Randi (MICHELLE WILLIAMS), and their kids. But they're now divorced and he lives in Boston where he works a thankless job as the superintendent for a residential building.

When he gets word from his friend George (C.J. WILSON) that his brother, Joe (KYLE CHANDLER), has passed away from a chronic health condition, Lee returns to his former town where he informs his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (LUCAS HEDGES), of his father's death.

Lee assumes that once he gets his brother's affairs in order, he'll return to Boston, but then he learns that Joe named him as Patrick's guardian. And with that teen's alcoholic mother, Elise (GRETCHEN MOL), out of the picture, Lee figures he has no choice but to uproot his nephew and take him down to Boston.

But that doesn't sit well with the teen, what with having all of his friends in Manchester-by-the-Sea, being on both the hockey team and in a band, and having two girlfriends -- Silvie (KARA HAYWARD) and Sandy (ANNA BARYSHNIKOV) -- who aren't aware of him seeing the other.

From that point on, Lee tries to figure out what's best for him and his nephew, all while dealing with memories of past events that changed his life forever.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
It's a given that all parents (at least the good ones) worry about their child's or children's well-being and safety. It's just a natural instinct shared with most of the animal world. Yet, whereas animals likely don't have "what if" future scenarios running through their minds (at least that we know of), humans do. And the one that haunts most parents is what will happen to their child or children should they die before the kid or kids reach an age where they can be on their own.

Many pick family members or friends to become the guardians should the Grim Reaper come knocking before he's expected. In one such instance years ago, we had some acquaintances of ours ask if we'd be the guardians for their kids should something happen to them. While we were honored to be asked, several problems immediately jumped into the light. For starters, we had only met the kids maybe once or twice at the time of said request.

And that's because they lived more than 1,000 miles away, a distance that obviously led to the crux of the problematic request. If we accepted, would we uproot those kids from the only lives and place they knew and bring them here, or would we uproot our lives and move there? Ultimately, we had to politely decline the offer for those reasons.

With that in mind, I could easily identify with the pain of a similar problem in the superb drama, "Manchester By The Sea." In that, Casey Affleck excels in the part playing a less-than-happy superintendent of a Boston area apartment complex who receives word that his brother (Kyle Chandler) has died in the titular locale. That essentially has left that man's teenage son (Lucas Hedges) orphaned because his alcoholic mother (Gretchen Mol) hasn't been seen for years.

While trying to settle his late brother's affairs, Lee is shocked to learn that his sibling named him as Patrick's guardian. Unlike our situation of barely knowing the kids, he knew his nephew fairly well, but hasn't seen him for some time due to having moved away. And he has no intention of moving back to his former town due to a past event that devastated him and ended his marriage (to his now ex-wife played by Michelle Williams).

Which puts him at a familial stalemate of sorts with his nephew who doesn't want to leave his hometown, what with not wanting to give up the family boat, being on the hockey team, and simultaneously dating two girls (Kara Hayward and Anna Baryshnikov) who aren't aware of that three-way situation. The film then boils down to what Lee is going to do, all while being back in a place full of painful memories from which he'd like to escape again.

It's a fairly straightforward plot about loss, family, and commitment, but writer/director Kenneth Lonergan doesn't just tell his tale in a linear fashion. Instead, he intersperses many flashback scenes into the central current story and in doing so reveals important details by peeling away and exposing layers of what makes his characters behave the way in which they do.

It's not of the Tarantino "Pulp Fiction" variety where time has been contorted, but it's certainly an effective storytelling technique that draws the viewer further into the characters and proceedings as things unfold and are disclosed. And he infuses enough humor into smaller moments that allow them to serve as comic relief to varying degrees and thus help mitigate this from being a downer of a movie.

Also helping in that latter regarding is that everything about the film is top-notch, with a superb script and excellent performances. Affleck's prickly and morose character certainly isn't a lovable sort, but the actor does such a good job playing him that you can't help but feel for his pain stemming from his past and present situations.

Hedges is also terrific as his teenage nephew in that age where he's uncertain how he's supposed to feel about and deal with what's transpired. Williams appears in various past scenes, but it's a multi-minute one set in the present that could earn her a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the power of what she presents in that highly emotional moment. Other performances are solid across the board, which also holds true for all of the various tech credits.

While it might not be everyone's cup of tea -- especially if you've contemplated what will or would have happened to your kids should something had or might happen to you, or you simply would prefer to watch happier escapism fare -- this is a film lover's dream if you enjoy watching actors and filmmakers performing at the top of their game. "Manchester By the Sea" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 28, 2016 / Posted December 16, 2016

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