‘Manchester by the Sea’ is an emotional, bleak treasure, critics say

The movie is out Friday in Boston.

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck star in 'Manchester by the Sea.'
Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck star in 'Manchester by the Sea.' –Claire Folger / Sundance Institute via AP

It’s official: Critics love Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s newest film starring Casey Affleck as a janitor, Lee Chandler, who grew up in the titular North Shore town and now lives in the Boston area.

The movie, out Friday in Boston, follows Chandler’s journey as he returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea when he is forced to take care of his nephew following the death of the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler).

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave Manchester by the Sea four stars and wrote that the film is filled with “humor, heart, and humanity”:

You can’t really prepare yourself for the emotional powerhouse that is Manchester by the Sea. And you shouldn’t let big-mouth critics and friends tell you too much about what’s ahead in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s transcendent benchmark. No film this year has moved me more with its humor, heart and humanity.

The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday said the film might be the most “joy-inspiring” of year, despite its bleak premise.

Whether it’s a mundane conversation in a hospital corridor or a procedural meeting with an attorney, Lonergan continually finds ways to reveal the emotional core of his characters — in this case a man who on the surface may seem shut down and closed off from the world, but who turns out to be fighting every moment to keep both shame and redemption at arm’s length.

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Vulture’s David Edelstein lauded supporting actors Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges and said the movie only has one major misstep:

In a key scene, Lonergan wants to build to an operatic pitch (the finale of Margaret was at the Met), and he floods what are already ghastly images with music suitable for immolating oneself. The word lachrymose comes to mind. As a playwright, Lonergan can’t overwhelm our senses the way he can as a film director, and you can’t really blame him for wanting to see how far he can go. But you can advise him to lower the volume.

Ty Burr of The Boston Globe penned an ode against traditional “advance praise” for small films, instead deciding he doesn’t want to be responsible for getting viewers’ expectations too high.

Just remember you heard somewhere that “Manchester by the Sea” is an experience worth having, not for the magnificence of its impact or the far-flung grandeur of its settings but for the way it illuminates with quiet, unyielding grace how you and I and our neighbors get by, and sometimes how we don’t.

USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt highlighted Lonergan’s screenplay and called Affleck a “joy to watch”:

While Lee’s character arc is the hardest to watch — one scene in particular will wreck any parents in the crowd — it’s a joy to watch Affleck work through all the emotions involved as his character deals with the ghosts of his past.

Watch the trailer for Manchester by the Sea:

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