The first half of Kenneth Lonergan’s Chekovian masterpiece Manchester by the Sea is pathos, and the second is catharsis. The first hour and change is a brutal, devastating slog. The last hour offers slight decompression, a few legitimate laughs, and just a sliver of a glimmer of hope. But, that’s the thing about hope; one need’s only a minute amount to have it all. It is not a quantitative thing. Even if there is something you just “can’t beat,” you can continue to go on and make plans for apartment guest bedrooms.
The dialogue and storywriting is sharp, especially with the use of time, and Lonergan’s direction is unswerving and curious. The film’s a bit long, but the running time is consistently worth it if only for the snorts and giggles toward the end that have required so much work to achieve.
Chandler and Mol stand out in limited screen time, and they are talented actors who often do, especially Chandler. Lucas Hedges is an incredibly capable, soon-to-be star in his own right. There are not enough descriptors for Williams’ brilliance. She never disappoints, but her scenes—especially the last one—are untouchable. Casey Affleck has never been better and so much is asked of him. So much. He is in every scene and is tasked with embodying every form of human tragedy and disaffection. He is more than deserving of all of the praise.
It is obvious that Manchester by the Sea is one the year’s best films and that Lonergan as a writer and Williams and Affleck as actors are some of the best of their respective generations.