Running time: 2 hour 17 minutes
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Spoiler alert in effect.
This was a good movie which took me aback. In a good way. As usual, the only plot details I knew before watching it was from the trailer. (Side note: Embarassingly, I thought it was based in Manchester in UK, not America, until about 15 minutes into the movie when Casey Affleck’s character Lee drove on the right hand side of the road.) I knew it was a drama about family, and I heard nothing but good things about the original screenplay written by Kenneth Lonergan. So what I expected was a heavy, dark and possibly tear-jerking story about death and family and guilt. Instead, it was all of this and more. Definitely more than I bargained for.
To start off, it was actually a really funny movie, as surprising as it sounds. Like not sitcom/slapstick funny, but like a dark, ironic, sarcastic funny, which happens to be my favourite type of comedy. And it’s not just the words they say, but it’s also in each person’s body language, and even the long silences were hilarious! It was so simple in this way. No need to for crude jokes. Just normal, everyday humour. For me, this is what made the film more enjoyable and helped to take the edge off the bleakness of the story being told.
The other part I really liked was the way the story was told, utilising flashbacks at irregular intervals to slowly paint Lee’s character and backstory. I love how we learn more about his history just as he himself has to relive these old memories. Whenever he is at a particular place or hears a particular word, we see this flashback appear. As the film progresses, Lee becomes this increasingly complex character, transforming him from this one-dimensional sad and angry janitor, to a man who was a loving, hardworking father, to someone who suffered an incredible tragedy and lives with the guilt everyday. We learn each of these traits just in time to be able to understand why he’s behaving or acting in that particular way. It’s like Lonergan gave us, the audience, puzzle pieces, and as the story unfolds, we start to put it all together and we get a clearer picture which fits into place upon reflection. Of course, we never quite get all the way to piecing together the whole picture; there’s always going to be pieces missing but that’s just like life. Nothing can be known completely, there’s just too many layers and too much complexity. But that’s the thing. You don’t have to know everything. You just need to know enough. I think that’s represented by the somewhat unsatisfying and abrupt ending. We don’t know if Patrick decided to move in with George or go to Boston with Lee. Maybe Lee changed his mind and stayed in Manchester. Does Lee ever forgive himself for his children’s death or can he never move on? I think Lonergan wanted us to make our conclusions. It’s obviously going to be tainted with our own upbringing and values, but really, the possibilities are endless and anything could happen. It’s the same with life. We can’t predict the future, so might as well take each day as it comes.
So for me, I found the storytelling element an unbelievably amazing part of the film. When I think about it, it’s a simple tale of death, life and family. There’s no action sequences, no shooting up the bad guys, no aliens or monsters. But it keeps you hooked just the same. I never found it boring, even though there was no mission to complete, or mystery to be solved. And that’s a testament to the writing and acting. I mean, the dialogue is amazing! He perfectly catches the personality of each character and the colloquialism of everyday talk. Like I’ve said before, the humour was the highlight for me and helped cut through the tension. It seemed so effortless too. Never forced out as some sort of lame joke.
In terms of the plot, it basically follows the story of Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck). The movie opens up with the seaside ports of Manchester, then shows Lee doing various cleaning and repair jobs around an apartment building. He resides in Boston and lives in a small room with one bed and pretty much nothing else. He’s willing to do all sorts of handyman work, including unclogging a toilet. However, he does all this with a detached attitude and indifference to the people he’s helping. He’s just doing his job and going from one day to another. Then one day, he gets a phone call from the hospital saying that his brother Joe has passed away. Drama ensues. Lee has to go back to his hometown of Manchester where he lived once upon a time, and where he and his brother and nephew Patrick used to go fishing on their boat. Going back there brings lot of old memories, many of them unwanted by Lee. He faces the prospect of having to be the guardian of Patrick and starts learning about all the people he thought he had left behind in Manchester. The rest of the film revolves around him and Patrick, as he tries to make funeral arrangements and review the estate planning. Through that process, he bumps into a lot of old faces and places, triggering flashbacks.
All in all, it’s a good introspection into humanity and the highs and lows of life. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to see a film that can make you laugh and cry, I highly recommend it. 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Bit of a controversy surrounding Casey Affleck but I don’t know much about it so I won’t get into it. The acting in general was top-notch. Lucas Hedges definitely has huge potential. He does such a great job as Patrick, playing a teenager who lost his father, grew up without a mother, and has to go through all the trials and tribulations of teenagehood while dealing with his father’s death and possible relocation.
Overall, I definitely recommend this film, and while the average movie-goer might give this a pass, I can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised at how charming and refreshing this film can be.
1. Do you think Patrick will agree to staying with George and his family, or will he be happy to relocate to Boston with Lee?
2. Do you think Lee will ever forgive himself and move on with his life?