Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Joel Mayward

Manchester By The Sea

Recommended Posts

Saw this at VIFF last night. A friend of mine who saw it *twice* at Sundance was ranting after last night's screening that someone had re-edited the film. He said it was a "masterpiece" at Sundance but now it was "mediocre" Oscar-bait, full of continuity problems that didn't exist before, etc. I wouldn't call the film in its current form "mediocre" myself, but take that for whatever it's worth.

(And gosh, it seems like a *lot* of films at this year's VIFF are re-edits of one sort or another. The Unknown Girl is reportedly seven minutes shorter now than it was when it debuted at Cannes, and The Birth of a Nation has reportedly dropped a key rape scene and perhaps some other bits as well that it had when it premiered at Sundance...)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
phlox   

Guess there wasn’t that much interest in this film?

I agree the trailer was somewhat misleading – and the flashbacks were confusing at times.

The film has haunted me, having grown up in a nearby town--the accent, the wounded-stoic attitude, the fishing boat scenes framing the story, the winter that seemed to go on forever.  

From a non-critic’s perspective -- I thought Justin Chang really captured it, in Variety– also Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), praising Lonergan’s “steadfast unwillingness to indulge in tidy reversals of heart or convenient happy endings….It is essentially about people: their quirks, foibles, self-deceptions and often fruitless attempts at overcoming their inner demons.…a man who may seem shut down and closed off from the world, but who turns out to be fighting every moment to keep both pain and redemption at arm’s length...”

 

 

Edited by phlox

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andrew   

I loved this film, and it's only grown in my estimation since I saw it in Toronto.  It'll definitely make my Best of 2016 list.  Affleck and Hedges are splendid, both illustrating the different ways that the vortex of grief affects people.  Here's a link to my review.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Glenn Kenny ends his year-end wrap-up (which is mostly about films he *likes*) with this surprising rant:

- - -

Also: Fuck Manchester by the Sea. Okay, maybe not fuck it, but it's not even among my honorables for several reasons. First is its unbelievably clumsy use of Ellington's "Beginning to See the Light" in the we-need-a-montage scene. Another is...well, maybe saying "uncinematic" is not fair, but you know as well as I do that the only reason Kenneth Lonergan directs his films is to keep his precious words intact. And third, the more I am asked to acknowledge the "tragedy" of a self-centered alcoholic who is offered an opportunity to be of genuine service to others, and instead opts to go back to his self-imposed sty of self pity, the less inclined I am to see it as tragedy, and more inclined I am to see it as defensive indulgence. So there. Also, there's the way the film neatly sidesteps issues of both moral and legal responsibility, the better to let the viewer experience all that emotion. My friend A.O. Scott raised some eyebrows in his Times review when he said it would be a mistake to deny that the movie had a racial dimension but it certainly does. I myself was reminded of the Lou Whitney song "Thirty Days in the Workhouse," the chorus of which goes "I got thirty days in the workhouse/now don't you shed no tears/'cause if I'd been a black man/they'd have given me thirty years." As Jerry Lee Lewis likes to say, think about it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Evan C   

Wow, that's harsh. I wasn't the biggest fan of Manchester, and while I think Kenny has a point in calling Affleck's behavior "defensive indulgence," I wouldn't go anywhere near as far as the rest of that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andrew   

Whew, talk about uncharitable (even nasty)!  And based on my work with hundreds of addicts and being friends with a couple, too, the categories of tragedy and defensive indulgence are not mutually exclusive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
30 minutes ago, Andrew said:

Whew, talk about uncharitable (even nasty)!  And based on my work with hundreds of addicts and being friends with a couple, too, the categories of tragedy and defensive indulgence are not mutually exclusive.

Yep, absolutely. As a pastor, I've encountered many people like Lee who are trapped in their own wallowing, unable or unwilling to heal. We don't have to applaud or agree with Lee's decisions by the end, but that doesn't mean being stuck in the grip of grief (or choosing to remain stuck) isn't a tragedy, one that resonates as true to experience. Why would Kenny even include this paragraph in a year-end list? It's unnecessarily cruel.

Edited by Joel Mayward

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Anders   

I'll just note that Glenn has publicly discussed his own struggles with alcohol and overcoming addiction, so that may affect his stance on the film. I haven't seen the film myself.

Edited by Anders

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I had a vague memory that Kenny has talked about his own history with that stuff, but I couldn't remember any specifics and didn't want to mention them without confirmation.

For what it's worth, I didn't get the impression that Kenny thought "tragedy" and "defensive indulgence" were mutually exclusive, per se; he just puts them on a spectrum and indicates that he is more inclined to lean one way than the other, at least in regard to this film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

***Spoilers****

FWIW, I've seen Manchester Three Times now, not because of huge affinity but through a fluke of circumstances. 

I agree that Kenny's articulation is overwrought, but that's par for the Internet. I also agree that some of his criticisms of the film have germs of truth in them. Still, I dislike the tendency to explode qualifications into disqualifications, and my own viewings have mediated some of those criticisms in my mind. Specifically, there appear to be three charges against the movie:

1) That it is uncinematic. 
2) That Lee rejects opportunities to be of genuine service to others in favor of 
3) Self-pity. 

Kenny himself acknowledges that #1 may not be "fair." The reference to montage is one I relate to. I'm not a huge fan of montage, but it is a valid technique in cinema. (A second viewing of La La Land reminded me of just how much montage is there, too.) The use of music in the scene he refers to is heavy-handed, and I agree with Kenny that the writing here is stronger than the visuals. But the use of montage not withstanding, I thought this a skillfully edited film. I've evaluated a lot of student films in the past five years and I can tell you that *any* technique can be done poorly or well. How long he holds certain shots, when he cuts in and out of scenes are all cinematic decisions that serve the film well. 

Number two is overstated. Lee does serve his brother and nephew. True, he does not do everything they ask, but neither does he simply reject the call to serve them entirely. He struggles to balance service with self-care. 

I suspect the core of Kenny's aversion (and I think that is what it is, not critique but dislike) stems from #3. Others are more qualified and suited than I am to talk about clinical depression and the dangers of labeling Lee's behaviors as stemming from self-pity. I want to suggest something different: Lee's problem is not that he is too self-pitying, it is that those around him are too forgiving. 

For me, it is very, very significant that Lee tries to kill himself not in the immediate aftermath of his children's death but after the police excuse him from responsibility. I think he senses the path to healing is some measure of taking responsibility and doing that is being denied to him. There is a suggestion that his ex-wife was cruel in the immediate aftermath, saying there was no hope of forgiveness or redemption. On the other extreme, the police say there is no *need* for forgiveness or redemption, only pity. 

Most people I know who are addicted to self-pity are that way b/c they don't get it from any other quarter. Lee gets too much. I don't think he is addicted to self-pity, I think he is addicted to self-punishment. And I get that entirely. The soul feels more revulsion at being told the universe is indifferent than that it is hostile. 

In many ways, Manchester by the Sea was, for me, the mirror image of Edge of Seventeen. Both films were about self-destructive characters who act out because of pain and who respond negatively to those who excuse them because on some level they know they are being a--holes. Yet it is hard for them to stop because on some level they want to be punished, and kind responses to their acting out makes them feel worse than the beatings they think they deserve. The mystery that I've been pondering is whether there is something other than luck or chance that makes one character/person more successful in being self-destructive than another. I disagree with the cops who say what happened to Lee's children was an accident that could have happened to anyone. Anyone could be victim of an accident, but Lee's situation was exacerbated by alcoholism and cocaine, so not everyone would have made the same mistake....and there may have been time to correct it and avoid tragedy if he hadn't been walking instead of driving.  What is true, though, is that (almost?) all of us have done stupid things that could just as easily have resulted in tragic consequences. I think it is the awareness of that fact that causes the cops to overstate Lee's absolution from blame, and I think this ultimately messes Lee up more than it helps him. What I find most pitiable about Lee's situation is not that he acted carelessly in a manner that led to the death of his own children (though that is tragic enough) but that he lives in an age and place where steps towards soul healing are sabotaged by a culture that has different concerns than the soul and doesn't understand (or care) how grieving, depression, and spiritual anguish work.

Edited by kenmorefield

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Darren H   

I've described MBTS a few times on social media as a middle-aged man's banal daydream, which is a bit overwrought, too, but it gets at something I haven't seen in other critiques of the film. First, a confession: I'm 44, I've been married for 20 years, I have two kids and a big mortgage, and I'm midway through a career that no longer gives me much personal satisfaction. In other words, I'm right in the midlife-crisis sweetspot, and more often than I care to admit I find myself fantasizing about escaping it all. (Don't worry, friends, I'm fine, my marriage is fine, my job is fine, everything is fine.)

I've never entertained the exact scenario that we see in MBTS, but the film felt familiar to me. I could too easily imagine Lonergan shuffling down the street, indulging in this daydream (I passed him on the sidewalk soon after I saw the film and he looked exactly as annoyed with the world as his character). That in and of itself is not a condemnation of the film. It's the banality of the work that left me wanting. I've never been a member of #TeamLonergan, but this one in particular struck me as a failure of imagination. For someone who is praised for his writing, Lonergan, I think, copped out by making Lee so inarticulate. I'm not saying it was an inaccurate portrayal of a certain kind of self-punishing PTSD behavior or that great films can't be made with quiet, inarticulate characters (most of my favorites do, in fact); I'm saying that Lonergan is, by his own admission, a not particularly experienced or gifted filmmaker, from a formal perspective, and so the wisdom of the piece must be generated elsewhere -- the scenario, the writing, the performances, all of which were . . . fine.  For all the flack American Beauty gets these days, I think these two films have much in common.

By comparison, I just finished watching Horace & Pete, which is also a middle-aged man (Horace and his creator, Louis C.K.) reckoning with family, the life he's made for himself, and the future, and I found it all deliriously imaginative. Scene after scene did things I couldn't have predicted. By the end, I was in awe of CK's creativity, which goes hand in hand with wisdom and insight.

Edited by Darren H

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tim K   
On 1/2/2017 at 3:06 PM, Darren H said:

By the end, I was in awe of CK's creativity, which goes hand in hand with wisdom and insight.

Sorry to detract from the film discussion; but I've never really thought of wisdom going hand in hand with creativity before. I could see how insight can help creativity, and how insight might lend a hand in developing wisdom, but never really saw much of a connection between wisdom and creativity. I would be interested in hearing a little more on that, Thanks.

Edited by Tim K

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Darren H   

Even as I wrote that, I knew I was skipping some steps in my proof! The short answer, though, is that we're talking about artistic expression here. The form a piece of art takes is at least as important as its content (to me, it's more important, actually), so if I'm seeking wisdom through an experience of art, much of it will be discovered in the creativity of individual decisions made by the artist -- in this case, where to put the camera, the duration between cuts, the music that plays over the images, and on and on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
M. Leary   
21 hours ago, Tim K said:

Sorry to detract from the film discussion; but I've never really thought of wisdom going hand in hand with creativity before. I could see how insight can help creativity, and how insight might lend a hand in developing wisdom, but never really saw much of a connection between wisdom and creativity. I would be interested in hearing a little more on that, Thanks.

The NT theology answer to this question is its connection between Christ as Wisdom (1 Cor 1:30) and Christ as Logos/Creator (John 1:1). This is kind of the basis for a truly Christian aesthetic, right?

Sorry, total aside to the thread.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
StephenM   

I found this incredibly moving.  Second most-moving film of the year, for me, after Silence.  There's probably some personal qualities that make it so powerful for me--I know what crippling guilt and depression feels like, though thankfully not for anything all that bad comparatively, and I know the pain of trying to put right something that it's too late to fix.  I found the Tom Hardy film Locke an incredibly moving film for similar reasons.

 

Nevertheless, I confess I don't really understand Darren's objections to the film at all.  They seem to ignore all the little details of place, class, culture, and character that make this film so authentic and insightful.  And I did not sense any hint of amateurishness in the directing or editing of the film--indeed, I was struck by it's confidence, smoothness, and sense of mastery.  Am the shots of snow-covered sidewalks and rooftops, the quiet choral music, that felt just perfect to me, though I've heard a couple others object as well.

The one bum note was that Matthew Broderick scene, which was just kind of terrible.  Where everything else had felt so authentic, even when the characters were awkward or uncomfortable, that scene felt awkwardly written/acted/directed.  It played into certain stereotypes of evangelicals that are not totally false, but as presented here come off as clangingly inaccurate, and rather mean.  But its overall placement in the narrative and thematic importance worked well enough, so I didn't feel it hurt the movie unduly.  And that dialogue exchange between Patrick and Lee, where Lee defensively points out to Patrick that "we're Christian, too"--that line has layers and layers of implications, both in personal motives and cultural tensions.

Anyway, I really liked this movie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×