We no longer have time for Manchester by the Sea | Film

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By Claire.

Warning: vague spoilers 

Movies where the protagonist is forced to go back to their home town after a tragic event and confront life (do I dare borrow from The Big Chill and call these stories of ‘Lost Hope?’) are some of my favourites, bonus if it’s an ensemble cast. I think this comes from my own upbringing in a country town which I couldn’t wait to get out of. It was for this reason, the casting of Kyle Chandler and the imagery shown in the trailer which all accumulated in me paying money for a ticket to see Manchester by the Sea. I wish I didn’t.

For the past three years, my sister and I have done our Big Oscar Watch, where we endeavour to see as many, if not all, of the Academy Award Best Picture nominations before the awards broadcast. All but too aware of Casey Affleck’s sexual abuse allegations, I went into Manchester By the Sea with a guilty heart. I tried my best to keep an open mind, but as soon as the credits (finally) started to roll, I broke my rule of waiting for the house lights to come up and was out of my seat and out of the cinema.

Manchester by the Sea is a story about Lee Chandler (Affleck), a domestic janitor forced to go back to his small, seaside hometown of Manchester, after the sudden death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Lee is now left with the guardianship of his teenage nephew, and the memories of the tragic events which forced his leave from the town in the first place. Basically, this movie is sad. It was sadder than I anticipated, and while the emotion was felt, the whole production came off as being for show. Despite being equipped with beautiful imagery and camera work in picturesque seaside Massachusetts, I’m ready to call out this movie for what it truly is: nothing more than a star vehicle to establish Casey Affleck as a Serious Actor, by giving him the role of the tortured soul.

Casey Affleck's one facial expression, as Lee (Left) and Lucas Hedges as his nephew, Patrick (Right)

Let’s be real, who had even heard of Casey Affleck before this movie came around? A name which has in no small feat only been escalated in the media due to his sexual abuse allegations, and outrage over his recent Golden Globes and BAFTA win, as discussed in this post. What better way to bring him into the Hollywood spotlight than by giving him a role where he seldom talks unless he is organising other people’s lives without explaining himself, punching men in bars just for looking at him funny, and has the same stoic expression on his face. I will admit, not all the acting was bad, but there are enough tortured soul white male roles out there, we don’t need another one.

What I also found disturbing is the treatment of women. This movie is so obviously made by men, it’s laughable.

First, let’s address Lee’s sixteen-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and his two girlfriends. Not only is this knowledge made known in the trailer, but is brought up in the film without any repercussions. Like, are we supposed to be ok with this? Without going into the polygamy debate, the reason this irks me so is that neither girl knows about the other. While the brunette Sylvie (Kara Hayward) provides emotional support for Patrick while he grieves, the blonde Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov) only acts as an object for Patrick to have sex with, as goes the only plot point in their relationship. Why not get a girl who can do both? The secrecy of Patrick’s infidelity is a form manipulation and reinforces the idea that women exist for nothing more than consumption and pleasure, as so often told around the teen boy narrative such as teen sex comedies.

Secondly, I think Michelle Williams did an excellent job as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, given the circumstances her character are given. By this, I don’t only mean in her ability to grieve and move on, but how her character was written, especially in regards to Lee. In the scene where Lee and Randi bump into each other on the street and they both cry out their emotions, I understand the pain and need for closure. Yet, while Randi is sobbing out apologies for the harsh words she said all those years ago, Lee says nothing about his mistakes. She isn’t angry to see him back in Manchester, and if I were in her shoes, I would be.

Michelle Williams as Randi, confronting Lee (Affleck)

Dear Randi: your wicked words were and are still valid, this man’s negligence freaking killed your kids! I understand it was an accident, I understand you have found it in yourself to move on, but what I fail to understand is why you are standing there, in front of your ex-husband with your new born baby from a man who probably has his life together, sobbing apologies for a few harsh words and wailing “I still love you’s!”.  It is only in a man’s world in which a woman—a mother—would be so forgiving in such a situation, and still in love with their ex-husband who effectively murdered their children, without any, at the very least, on-screen confrontation.

During the scene, Lee, thick with tears, contends “No, there’s nothing there” in reaction to Randi’s declarations of love. This distances himself from her, and is a responsible reaction, as he recognises he is no good for her. Yet, due to the scripting and characterisation of Williams’ character, the resulting dynamic between the two though leaves Randi as the wailing woman, crazy and hopelessly in love with Affleck’s brooding, tortured soul. Like Patrick’s girlfriend’s, Randi is a device to redeem Lee as a character. What we are left with is the feeling that, if his ex-wife can still love him, he mustn’t be that bad of a man.

There are enough movies about the tortured white male, who can be an asshole without judgement because life has dealt him some bad blows. Furthermore, there are enough movies which feature 2-dimensional women, who only exist to make the tortured males look good. In today’s political and cultural climate, we don’t have the time for such movies, especially during award season. It is a record-year for African American stories and filmmakers at the Academy Awards, it’s no wonder Manchester by the Sea is receiving little to no recognition. I have already said my piece on the injustice of the continuous celebration of men in the film industry who are known sexual abusers in regards to Affleck’s Golden Globe earlier this year, but it’s no wonder it is getting overshadowed by Moonlight and Hidden Figures. We don’t need movies like this anymore, and quite frankly, I’m more than happy to see them go. 

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used in this post.
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