“Manchester By The Sea”

Oscar calls! Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck, your grief/love scene will go down in the history of cinema as one of the best ever filmed. You both talked over one another and still struck the perfect cord in selfless emotional giving. I defy anyone not to be moved by the caring pain you showed.

If the biblical Job suffered, Lee Chandler ( Casey Affleck) is Job times ten. Guilt and family and life-changing events slowly fill the scene in flashback sequences. We get to know this Kenneth Lonergan creation~ a working class handyman whose losses seem insurmountable.

There are two scenes that are so natural and heartfelt that the audience collectively sucked in air. This oxygen boost nearly prepared you for the morgue cart ‘s rolling sound, the clenched hands, the slow walk toward the body, the tentative touch before an endearing one, and then the hug and the final brotherly kiss. Affleck’s swift nose wipe is masterful. He absolutely drains this all too familiar event. Michelle Williams is as master-class perfect: a harpy one minute, a tender apologist the next.

The use of slow-motion, the exquisite score, and the incredible writing all contribute to this  contemporary Greek tragedy. Yet, life’s humor is not forgotten. I can’t remember a film that so nailed the psyche of the teenager: exasperatingly self-centered and childishly sweet, attempting to make sense of life with the bravado of a diva. Lee’s nephew and new charge, Patrick, ( Lucas Hedges) is against moving  an hour and a half away after his father Joe’s ( Kyle Chandler) death. “All my friends are here. I play hockey, am in a band, etc..You are a janitor in Quincy: What the hell do you care where you live!”  As Lee becomes the trustee for a 16 -year-old minor, he is aghast:” I was just the back-up!”  When Lee is berated by a passer-by ( a cameo by Kenneth Lonergan) on his parenting skills.  Patrick quips, ” Are you fundamentally unsound ? ”

When Lee tosses his clothes in a box and then carefully wraps three picture frames in individual cloth like rare gems, we sigh for him. When his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) comes to see him pregnant and moving forward with her life, the woman next to me- a seasoned film-goer of opening nights-  burst out, ” the poor man”.  Believe me, this is an emotionally wrenching film, because it so captures the normal details of life. Writer Lonergan is so observant in his recording of the contemporary experience, that he expects you to be equally alert to the “cold, ‘Keep out’ sign ” that mirrors the numbed psyche of our protagonist. The freezer attack scene is equally disarming. Cold reality and the warmth of the community balance each other.

Suspense and humor and incredulous guilt border “Manchester By The Sea”. Like the old motor on the family boat, a piston is ready to blow.  Three shocking sequences keep the story moving. Besides the central event, one is  in the police station, another at a bar.

Lesley Barbra’s score is lovely. The  Manchester scenery misses “Singing Beach, the mansions, and the stone walls and apple orchards, and the yacht club, but the white frame church steeples, and the middle class areas of North Beverly and Quincy are well portrayed. The harbor and nature’s waves seem like apt metaphors. The daily grind can seem uplifting in comparison to the tragedy life can hold. Laugh when you forget where you have parked your car. And remember that fishing off Misery Island can bolster a smile. Kudos  to a fine film!


“Carol” begins with  train roll noises. We see a black screen and know symbolic connections are being made. We see a grid that could be a circuit board transmuting electrical charges;then we see a woman’s pump, and we now recognize a shoe-scrapping metal mat. Sensually charged,someone is stepping in it.

The cinematography of sixty-seven-year-old Edward Lachman is picture perfect. He seems to know the 1950’s and adjusts the camera to define  every detail from gloved hand and brightly painted nails to white-walled tires and broken and scotch-taped crayons. The interiors of swank hotels and fussy department stores mesh with martinis and Betsy Wetsy and Madame Alexander dolls. We feel nostalgic for cameras that are not digital and real film with notches.

Cate Blanchett is a marvel of upper class aplomb. Her furs, her scarlet wool coat, the flip of her hair with her hand, and her incessant smoking blows through Lachman’s frames. Forbidden feelings she seems to have made peace with: Cate is an easy Carol. Alligator purses and a  Seventh Avenue Rolls and a ten year marriage , soon to be dissolved, outline her world. Her backstory of earlier intimate female relationships allows us to feel her repression. Her psychological counseling for her “aberrant behavior” is  talked about amid white-tablecloth-dining and her in-laws. As much as I liked Blanchett in this role, I feel Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” will win the Oscar instead of Cate’s Carol. She just makes it look too easy, like she is playing herself !

Rooney Mara deserves the Oscar win for “Best Supporting Actress” . As the young shopgirl, Therese Belivet, Mara portrays a range of emotions from infatuation, insecurity, devotion, misgivings, desire and devastation and guilt. When boyfriend Richard asks for her hand in eloping to Paris, she answers, ” How can I. I barely know what to order for lunch.”  There is a sadness in her voice like she is being rushed to make life choices.   Feeling  forced to follow Hoyle feels foreign . Mara with her Audrey Hepburn/Audrey Tautou facial innocence pulls this off beautifully. The magnetic looks between Carol and Therese ready us for their trance-like,closeted 1950’s dance of hair and breath.

The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is helped by Carter Burwell’s  gorgeous score. The lyrics of Billy Holiday like   “I can’t resist you. Your heart is what I desire. There is nothing in life but you.” meld with  the  characters’ angst. “Silver Bells” fits their road trip West like their Samsonite cases that snuggle in the car’s trunk.  Nagy’s dialogue is insightful and to the point. Characters don’t babble. Carol’s lesbian friend ‘s ,”She is young. Tell me you know what you are doing?”  is an example. Anfother is Carol’s , “It is not your fault. I took what you gave willingly.” Period vocabulary like “ice box” and  ” bell-hop”  and “tomato aspics” are all classic period fare. The question, “How is that working for you?” not so much. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, “The Price Of Salt”, the screenplay follows Carol and Therese’s romance and keeps us guessing how it will end.

Director Todd Haynes makes certain that  key  scenes  are given real import, like where Therese vomits when she is physically shattered by the loss Carol must endure . Carol’s voiceover of “you seek resolutions because you are young” carries great weight.  Probably more than “She is gone. She is not coming back.”  Their “Waterloo” is in Waterloo, Iowa, by the way.

Viewers will be surprised at least twice in this film. Carol’s husband Harge ( Kyle Chandler)  provides the gasps. While the tightly wound denouement comes full circle, viewers will be more shocked by ” morality clauses” than by patterns of behavior. The dramatic tension is not released until the very end. This is a subtle film beautifully made and terrifically acted.