A moving and beautifully observed exploration of the aftermath of how a stupid mistake can turn lives inside out.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor working in an apartment block in Quincey, Massachusetts. When Lee hears that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is in hospital, he heads back to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea, only to discover that his brother died an hour earlier.
Lee’s response to this news is emotionally blank and yet heartbreakingly sad. Only when he goes down to the morgue to say goodbye to his brother does he allow himself a little grief.
Joe’s will names Lee as the guardian of his sixteen-year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee intends to stay for only long enough to take care of the funeral and make other arrangements for Patrick. However, Lee doesn’t entirely succeed in remaining distant from his nephew; a tentative relationship that offers a potential way out.
The film flits between the present day and Lee’s earlier life, where he is revealed as an ordinary guy who loves his wife and kids, goes fishing with Joe and Patrick and hangs out with his friends. The contrast with his current life as a janitor living in a basement apartment couldn’t be more jarring; later, the tragic consequences of his single stupid mistake are revealed.
A wryly comic sub-plot involves Patrick’s attempts to have sex with one of his girlfriends, Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov) under the nose of her mother Jill (Heather Burns), prevents the story from becoming too bleak.
A heart-breaking scene between Lee and his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) involves very little dialogue, but each fleeting expression and silent gesture conveys all that needs to be said.
Manchester by the Sea is a film in which body language speaks louder than words.