*** stars (out of four)
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan made the indie darling You Can Count on Me in 2000. But his next film, Margaret, was caught in a torturous battle between Lonergan and the studio, finally receiving a very limited release. His latest, the family drama Manchester by the Sea, has been a hit at film festivals this fall (including the New Orleans Film Festival).
In an excellent, understated performance, Casey Affleck plays a handyman who learns that his brother (Kyle Chandler in flashbacks) died of a heart attack. The death has left Chandler’s teenage son (Lucas Hedges) without a guardian, as his unstable mother left the family when Hedges was younger. Affleck is not prepared to take on the new responsibility. At first, the reasons are unclear, but they are revealed around halfway through in a devastating flashback.
The film mostly concerns itself with how people carry on with the business of life in the wake of soul-crushing heartbreak. It’s often bleak, but there’s enough low-key, believable humor in the interactions to keep it from turning into misery porn. At close to 140 minutes, the film at times feels a tad flabby (battles over length were alleged to be one of the main reasons Margaret was delayed so long), but this is generally strong, character-based filmmaking.