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NYFF: Manchester by the Sea

From the New York Film Festival here's Jason on the new film from Kenneth Lonergan.

The scene that we've been waiting for all during Manchester by the Sea comes pretty much where you might expect it to, that climactic slot about 3/4ths of the way in right where stories usually come to a head. And yet, and yet, the way that it comes showcases what makes Kenneth Lonergan such a fascinating writer and director. The way we get to this emotional head is typically, for this director, winding - the film is suffused with flashbacks that don't so much announce themselves as they do sneak in through the window and climb into bed beside you, surprise spooning you til sunrise. So when this climax comes where it should come, well that in itself is a surprise, but one you only notice in hindsight.

But it's more than that. Without going into specifics about what happens, what's so fascinating about this scene (and I'm using it as a microcosm for the whole film here) is how it lays there in wait in the broad daylight for its sneak attack. It just happens. And in Lonergan's hands this feels like the sweet hard mess of real life - broken boat motors and a bumped head; the moments where we catch up while our friend is bringing the car round and suddenly the world around us crumbles. Miniature hurricanes that don't announce themselves but sweep you up and slam you down without actually moving you an inch.

Manchester by the Sea is awash in such flashes, such sudden floods. Casey Affleck gives an astonishingly light performance of utter devastation. We spend the film putting together the puzzle of him only to find out the puzzle is broken and the pieces are vanishing in our hands as we gather them up. The actor makes us gather faster, and gather harder. He makes us want to sort it out alongside him. That his performance and the film are so much much funnier than you're anticipating only makes its foundation of bottomless grief all the more vertiginous - it is, like honest-to-goodness life, disorienting with drilled deep possibilities of goodness, and honesty, and pain.

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Reader Comments (8)

Dammit Jason you just made me so angry at how long I have to wait for this lol!

Even not knowing what is to come specifically, this is so beautifully stated on how Lonergan works in those moments that just knock you flat.

October 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I would have liked the review a lot better if you had mentioned other performances apart from Affleck's,seeing how Williams is the S/Actress frontrunner.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

Chris -- agreed. I am really into seeing this now. I think i was not that exciting before because his films aren't all that hypable despite their quality.

mark -- oh i'm sure we'll get to her.

October 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Casey Affleck is a very talented actor with a great solid career who managed to build a name for himself without the Hollywood celebrity machine crippling him. Good for him and I;m glad Manchester By The Sea seems to be his ticket to many awards

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Mark -- I never really like to do a laundry-list of performance shout-outs in my reviews and like Nat said I figured she'd end up being well covered here over the next few months.

That said it was important to me to highlight Affleck because I think he's been criminally underrated as an actor - he's one of those guys who makes good acting seem so natural and unforced and even in this movie in his big scenes it's almost all played inwardly.

That that said, Michelle WIlliams is fan-fuckin-tastic in the film and she deserves all the gold stars they can throw at her.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Jason: It's Casey Affleck, the gaping hole in his brother's way too serious directorial filmography. (Seriously, The Town and Argo with Casey Affleck instead of Ben are both B+/A- movies, instead of the solid Bs they are. But, nope, we have to deal with this black hole who hasn't been great IN a movie since, if we're being completely honest about separating quality of movie from quality of performance, Extract, as the lead.)

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I agree, he's tremendous in this role. It's tailor made for him, I don't know if he'll win the Oscar, but his career will probably rise after this film comes out.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisaoh

Casey Affleck is one of my least favorite actors. He comes across as a self-absorbed, weaselly little twerp. I have no patience with watching him suffer for an entire movie.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTotallyAnonymous

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