(US - 2016)
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Cast; Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Kara Hayward, Anna Baryshnikov, Heather Burns, Tom Kemp, Kenneth Lonergan. (R, 137 mins)
Acclaimed writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's pay-the-bills gigs have included scripting films like ANALYZE THIS and GANGS OF NEW YORK, but he's best known for his 2000 indie YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, which got Laura Linney an Oscar nomination and was the first big break for Mark Ruffalo. But then it all fell apart as Lonergan's follow-up, MARGARET, was shot in 2005 and languished on the shelf for six years, mired in editing issues and lawsuits. It finally got released on just 14 screens in 2011, and that was only after Lonergan mentor Martin Scorsese intervened and supervised an exactly 150-minute recut that met the distributor's demand of a 150-minute film that Lonergan refused to deliver. Lonergan was allowed to prepare his own 186-minute director's cut for the Blu-ray and while the film met with significant acclaim, he was subsequently viewed as everything from difficult at best to unstable at worst, and for a while, it appeared as though his career might be finished. Five years after the MARGARET debacle came to an end, and with the help of producer pal Matt Damon, Lonergan is back with MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, a distinctly Lonergan character piece that takes the complex family dynamics of YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and the gut-wrenching emotional trauma of MARGARET to make what's probably his defining auteur statement yet.
Adagio in G Minor so loud and so long that it actually starts to undermine the effectiveness. It's really the only misstep in an otherwise exemplary and profoundly, achingly moving film, anchored by powerful performances from Affleck and Hedges, as well as Williams, who only has a few scenes but makes every one count. Lonergan dives right into the action, but then lets things play out in natural, unaffected ways, allowing us to get to know everything we need to know about these characters, even the minor ones like Elise's second husband, played in a one-scene cameo by Lonergan regular Matthew Broderick. Affleck and Hedges beautifully portray the back-and-forth love and resentment between a broken man who just wants to be left alone and the nephew who used to look up to him and wants to be independent but needs his uncle more than he realizes. It's a raw and unflinching film but it's sprinkled with some surprisingly funny moments, whether it's Lee trying to grasp how Patrick can juggle two girlfriends or how the uncle and nephew find dark humor in a period of intense mourning (Patrick, inside Lee's freezing cold car: "Maybe we can just put my dad back here." Lee: "Shut the fuck up"). MARGARET was an ambitious but sometimes unwieldy mess that got away from him, but Lonergan has crafted his finest work yet with MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, one of 2016's best films.