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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On Blue Collar Narratives, White Male Angst, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA



From the moment MANCHESTER BY THE SEA begins, with Casey Affleck as a plumber digging the s**t out of a client's toilet, it's hard to tell where the narrative is going to go. But you take comfort in seeing the Oscar nominee (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) with his signature slouch and unaffected smirk because, well, you think if anything he will be enough of a reason to watch.

Luckily, the entire cast brings their A-game--including Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and C.J. Wilson. But the film itself just putt putts along with no real destination. And its non-linear narrative doesn't help. Affleck plays Lee, who finds his menial life uprooted when his brother suddenly passes away. Upon reentering his suburban Massachusetts hometown of Manchester, his devastating past--the death of his three children and the dissolution of his marriage--comes backs to torture him once more. To make matters even more strained, he learns that his brother appointed him as the guardian of 15-year-old son, Patrick (Hedges). Thus sets off the narrative, and the reluctant relationship between a grieving father and his soon-to-be adult nephew.



As much as I appreciate male vulnerability on the big screen, the delivery here is exhausting. Never mind that the score is all over the place and never fits the tone of any particular scene. And that Hollywood insists on telling the same Boston area narrative of a blue collar white man who looks like the poster child for Trump America (despite Massachusetts being a predominantly Democratic state). I'm just...fatigued. Particularly as a Boston native--and a black woman--I know for a fact that there are more narratives set in this area that Hollywood continually ignores.

The predictability and tropes aside, the performances really are the standout. With Blue Valentine, Shutter Island, and now this role as Lee's ex, Randi, Williams has quickly become the go-to actress to play the young distraught mother. Though she has minimal screen time, she's in it long enough to drop a bunch of f-bombs as a tough young mom then quickly deteriorate into a broken shell of woman who looks far older than her years. Her swollen emotions only exacerbate Lee's already sorrowful visit. And Affleck is as always dependable, facing the challenge of portraying a man who's buried his emotions so deep that every line he utters has the potential to turn into rage. Hedges has great chemistry with Affleck, embodying typical teenage crises triggered by tragedy that forces Lee to break out of his internalizing before he's ready to do so.



But still, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's MANCHESTER BY THE SEA made me leave the theater feeling empty. It's meditation on grief and internal agony is fine enough yet neither groundbreaking nor interesting to watch. In fact, it could easily be filed away as just another white male angst narrative.

Rating: C+ (*** out of *****)

Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions will release MANCHESTER BY THE SEA in theaters November 18.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just saw the film and I feel much the same way. I'd give it a B. Although you're right that the world didn't exactly need another white-working-class-Boston-male movie.

I even imagine this movie having been from Michelle Williams's character's point of view. Now that would have been interesting.

Kyle A said...

"...another white male angst narrative."
-Racism
I understand there are tons of white and whitewashed movies...But at least for this one can you just see the movie for what it is instead of bringing race in the picture?
Also, is there another movie that portrays such tragedy? (Just...in general? I've yet to see another movie such as this)

Dankwa Brooks said...

Wow I liked the movie a lot more than you did, but yeah the performances were the standout.

Anonymous said...

What an odd take on a great film. Does the film not explore universal human themes? Nothing "white male angsty" about painful pasts and grief - I believe all races and genders can relate, even if the particulars might be different. Seems you don't like the movie because of what it's not, but also what it's not trying to be. Please open your mind. Unfair.

Anonymous said...

What a bias, headline grabbing take on a masterful piece of work. Shame on you. To reduce this talented director's unique realisation of a universal grieving process into a racial argument shows who you really are. "A writer for hire" - because you won't find full time employment with cheap writing like that... Whatever your opinion on the film there is no need to reduce that kind of work .... Racism exists in the world of cinema, but we don't need you to make it sound like a cheap argument by attaching your unprovoked and poorly judged opinions to people's work in the process just to make yourself heard. You are not HONEST as your profile suggests, you are cheap.

Anonymous said...

Try and review the movie on its own terms, instead of projecting.
There is literally nothing political in the movie, and you are arguing with yourself about it. It's weird.
"And that Hollywood insists on telling the same Boston area narrative of a blue collar white man who looks like the poster child for Trump America (despite Massachusetts being a predominantly Democratic state)"

Also, get an editor.

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