Manchester by the Sea (2016)

I was really excited for this film going in. Pretty soon, I was excited for it to be over.

Manchester by the Sea is universally considered one of the leading films in the awards season this year, and I can totally see why. It’s written and directed by a playwright (Kenneth Lonergan); it has a lot of fine, wrenching performances; and it tells a grounded story that feels more real than life itself.

Unfortunately, at least for me, it was also boring.

Written and directed by a playwright? It runs like a play, a medium known for drawn-out stories and dialogue-based action. Those fine, wrenching performances? They made me want to hug the characters, not root for them. That realism? Well, I thought I went to the movies to escape real life, if even by the slightest degree. These characters aren’t going to do what you want them to do, because they’re human, and that’s what humans do.

I feel like I’m spewing vitriol at this film, which I don’t think it really deserves. Most of this film is really excellent, and I don’t want you to think it’s not. I truly believe that Michelle Williams has a shot at an Oscar, and Casey Affleck might as well. This is a genuinely moving motion picture, arguably more affecting than most this year. Plus, it was nice to see two growing actors from Moonrise Kingdom.

I just can’t say that I really enjoyed watching it all, since I don’t think it’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s meant to be appreciated, maybe, or respected.

Manchester by the Sea does a remarkable job of depicting the human condition. Go in expecting that, and you won’t be disappointed. It is unfailingly realistic, and that is undoubtedly its greatest strength. It is also perhaps its greatest weakness, and I really wish I felt differently.

3 Yellow

Manchester by the Sea is in theaters now.


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