Once again, Kenneth Lonergan assaults our emotions and rips our heart out of us with yet another melancholic story set in the mundane. When you set a story in reality, there’s an automatic chilling add-on that hovers over the story being depicted. When we eventually see Joe Chandler’s (Kyle Chandler) tombstone on the film and it reads 2015, Lonergan is honing in on our fear of fear itself, that impending feeling that your mom might die in car-crash or your house might set on fire, leaving you nothing behind.
Adding to the relatable naturalism of Manchester by the Sea, there’s the brilliant decision of casting Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler. Avoiding the original decision of casting Matt Damon who at this point in time exudes a certain power on-screen, while also looking like he spends his entire day at they gym, Lonergan decided to go with the smaller and quieter Affleck in this case, the gloriously normal human being, Casey Affleck. The man is basically guaranteeing himself an Oscar win with Manchester by the Sea, as all he’s doing is tacking on a dreadful backstory to his pre-existing persona, something he pulls off brilliantly. Lee Chandler is a non-entity, a janitor living in Quincy who spends his days starting bar brawls or sulking away his existence. Lee Chandler was your everyday man, it just so happens that underwent a tragic event that will haunt his view of life until the day he dies.
The simple decision of having this story take place in the cold New England winter is also genius, as it works perfectly alongside the tone of the film. Although I’m probably never watching this film again, I admire its genius and the fact that Kenneth Lonergan has crafted an aching masterpiece about the underlining depression of everyday life. There’s a Lifetime version of this film where Lee Chandler moves in with his nephew and starts a new life pattern overcoming that dreaded past he decided to leave behind in Manchester-by-the-sea when he moved to Quincy, but simply writing that there’s a sense of falsity in that, one that devalues the reality of the world we live in. Instead, Lonergan cruises through Misery Island and Pride Rock, showcasing the reality of the vileness our world is drowned in.