The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Manchester by the Sea: Dump it in the Harbor
.By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
In most Asian countries, the number four is equated with death and misfortune. This is because the word for "four" is similar to the word for "death." This usually means the number four is seen as a bad omen, such as skipping an official fourth floor on tall buildings. Last year, on the fourth day, I watched my first real disappointing movie of the Oscar series. This year, I found the first film I did not like at all of the new group of nominees. And what's really damning is that I should actually like these movies, but I just can't.
Manchester by the Sea follows Lee (Casey Affleck) who returns to his hometown of Manchester to look after his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee has a lot of emotional baggage in Manchester, and being forced to uproot his life to return there does nothing to make him feel better. This is not helped by seeing his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) around town and seeing that she's started a new life after the disastrous end to their marriage.
Like Brooklyn, this movie is one I should like. It's absolutely gorgeous and makes me want to travel to New England (which I may do this year if fortune favors me in this job market), but there were so many things that took me out of the movie that I couldn't enjoy it. The biggest is probably the setting. Yes, Massachusetts by the sea is gorgeous and probably nice to visit, but the thick New England accents got really grating over time. It didn't help that a good portion of the film is characters loudly cursing and arguing with one another, which only served to make these scenes hard to deal with when you have loud and uncomfortable arguing in accents that are commonly characterized as cacophonous and obnoxious.
There were also some minor things that really got me. The accents were annoying, but Affleck's in particular was strange to me. I kept thinking he sounded like Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force despite those being two different accents, which took me out of a few serious moments. There were also small technical details that got in the way of certain scenes. Twice Affleck's character starts a bar fight, and in both instances, the same crowd gasp sound effect was used when he threw the first punch. There's a scene of Williams' character being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher, which takes a while to get inside. While this was apparently a blooper left in since it fit the scene, it went on for so long it got kind of ridiculous. It took me out of the drama of the scene—believe me, it follows some heavy drama—and made me think they'd just drop her like in There's Something About Mary to really push how awful things were for her.
Another issue was that there wasn't really much to surprise or intrigue me during the film. I guessed the reason Affleck and Williams divorced minutes before the film revealed it. After that, there's nothing to reveal. Characters sort of float through scenes having one emotional reaction after another, but there's hardly any narrative arc at play. There are some, but they're so subtle that they require almost no investment from the viewer. Yes, Affleck and Hedges will bond, but there's nothing in particular to push them to bond other than being sad in the same room, and there's little reward for it when they do bond.
Manchester by the Sea is not a bad movie. I would argue it has deserved most of the awards it has won, although I am prepared to argue if Affleck is as much a shoe-in as he seems to be for Best Actor after the week is over. Williams falls into the same issues I had with Nicole Kidman yesterday where she's nominated for one really good scene, but probably won't win because of that. Hedges would be an interesting win since he hasn't been in a lot of films before now, but it remains to be seen if he can hold against some of the other actors in his category.
Overall, Manchester by the Sea could win some awards, but it'd be a very boring win. I personally have no attachment to this film and left it feeling really unfazed by it. It's not a movie I would revisit in the future, and there's very little in it I'd recommend to other people. If anything, people will probably watch it based on what it does win. To me, that's not enough to justify a movie I found somewhat dull when it wasn't actively annoying me.
Tomorrow: A film everyone (especially my mom) has told me I need to see. I look at Hidden Figures and hope it launches me far away from today's movie.