Review: Manchester by the Sea

May 8th, 2021

I like movies a bunch. With this workaday world however I find I don’t have much time to see them. As a result, I keep a list of movies I hope to see. Sometimes I’ll see a movie quickly while some, like the original “Manchurian Candidate”, I still haven’t seen after nearly twenty years on the list. I thought I’d wanted to see “Manchester by the Sea”, but after viewing it I realized that it wasn’t on my list. The absence was a warning, I now realize.

“Manchester” is one of the newer movies in the growing line of crappy white Boston movies that are inexplicably well-regarded. You can find woofers like “Mystic River” and “Good Will Hunting” in this category. I happen to like Matt Damon, but found “Good Will Hunting” awful and self-indulgent. If you’ve seen “Hunting”, and somehow like it, how do you square your positive feelings with the “Do you like apples” scene? Robin Williams being good isn’t enough.

With the exception of “The Departed”, a fun but otherwise dumb movie, “Manchester” is the best of the lot. That’s not saying much. “Mystic River” bludgeons its viewers with cheap tragedies, hoping you’ll be too sad to notice terrible acting. “Good Will Hunting” has its pleasant, low-key moments but is fundamentally a conceited movie. Ooh Matt Damon is a janitor with super math powers! “Manchester” (produced by Matt Damon) has a protagonist that also happens to be a janitor. I’m not offended by low expectations of janitors in these movies but there’s a hollowness to punching down on such professions. You’re not a real person if you work in fast food, retail, or clean things.

Of Hollywood’s sins, fake accents are among the most unforgivable. It seems especially hard to fake Boston accents but that doesn’t stop movies like “The Departed” and of course “Manchester” from trying. My first trip to Boston was in 2003, and I was a touch surprised nobody sounded ridiculous. It’s safe to say if you’re trying to make a realistic movie you don’t need every single person to lay it on really thick. I’m from Virginia and live in Texas. The only time I have an accent is when I get pulled over. “I’m tarrably sorrah, sur. I suppose I may have bean going a touch fast.”

Casey Affleck is our janitor. Just in case you don’t look down on janitors, one of the Affleck’s clients confides to a friend that she thinks he’s cute. And he’s her janitor! How edgy! As our movie unfolds, we learn Affleck’s sorry state of affairs (again, just being a janitor) is due to tragedy, and now he has to make a choice of whether or not to take care of his late brother’s son Patrick. Patrick the cursed spawn, played by Lucas Hedges, is an unbearable, spoiled brat complete with a terrible accent. The movie cuts to scenes of young Patrick being well-loved and cared for by his extended family, yet he still manages to grow up to be a complete weenie.

There are two notable performances in this movie. Michelle Williams, barely in the film, steals the show. Her portrayal of tragedy and strained relationships is arresting. The other performance is Affleck’s. Yes he gets into stupid white Boston film fights, but there’s also real acting.

Other than two decent performances (among a slew of completely forgettable ones) there’s nothing to “Manchester”. People say the movie is depressing. No, it’s far worse. It’s pointless.

$Id: review_manchester_by_the_sea 607 2021-05-08 15:42:21Z x $

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