• Festivals

Sundance Diary, Day 3: Manchester-by-the-Sea, Boston Strong

As snow falls on Park City, Sundance is knee deep in the first weekend and as usual the only constant is variety – in subject matter, origin and quality, all of which vary widely. Originality and creativity don’t always equate with a successful film and so far the festival has alternated hits and misses, sometimes succumbing to that indie film mainstay: quirkiness. That can be a good thing as well as an incentive for an early exit from the screening room and the first few days have seen their fair share of dreaded walkouts. Not a single one took place, however, during the premiere showing of Manchester-by-the-Sea Kenneth Lonergan’s quiet and powerful family drama that hit the audience like an emotional Nor’easter.

Kenneth Lonergan, director – Manchester-by-the-Sea

Luca Celada

One day someone will have to reflect upon the influence of the city and the people of Boston on modern American cinema. Incisive dramas like The Fighter, The Town, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River have taken working class Boston as a backdrop for deeply human stories. Just this year we’ve seen Black Mass and Spotlight tell stories – albeit very different – rooted in the same Beantown milieu, and while Southies have become something of a mainstay in film villains from The Friends of Eddie Coyle to The Departed, it is the richly textured characters that have made the Boston setting so alluring to authors and directors. The hard working, hard drinking blue-collar denizen’s of Beantown have breathed life into narratives both colorful and universally relatable.

That is certainly true of Manchester-by-the-Sea, which is produced by Boston born Matt Damon and tells the story of the brothers Lee (Casey Affleck) and Joe (Kyle Chandler) Chandler, fishermen in the small Massachusetts hamlet which gives the film it name. The story of the rough-hewn brotherly bond that unites them is told mostly in flashback through the eyes of brooding, irritable Lee, a loner handyman in Boston who is prone to fits of anger. As the unhurried, deftly edited narrative unfurls we uncover the tragic events that have brought Lee to his unmoored existence and to his return to his hometown as reluctant guardian to his teenage nephew. Lonergan is a playwright by vocation and his assured writing rings true at every turn delivering a story that exudes the simple pathos of human living, both mundane and quietly sublime. The magic of his prose, as Casey Affleck told us at the premiere “is that it knows how to sound like people actually talking”. No small feat that benefits from another extraordinary performance from the younger Affleck who is rapidly becoming the very embodiment of quietly charismatic male vulnerability on screen. Manchester-by-the-Sea, which also features a standout performance by Michelle Williams is one of those Sundance films that we will very likely be talking about all year.

Luca Celada

Matt Damon, Producer – Manchester-by-the-Sea

Luca Celada