Dec 23

“Manchester by the Sea”: Parenting Unexpected

Manchester by the Sea, featuring the highly praised performance of Casey Affleck, is the “best movie of the year,” states Rex Reed, New York Observer. And as of this writing it’s a rarely seen 8.5 on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although I found it to be longish, slowish, and above all utterly sad—the latter of which was repeatedly attested to by Affleck himself in his recent and humorous SNL monologue—it’s certainly worth seeing.

Basic info about Manchester by the Sea from A.A. Dowd, AVClub:

Casey Affleck, in the great internal performance of his career, plays Lee Chandler, a withdrawn handyman scraping by in Quincy, a suburb of Boston. Lee is the kind of miserable bastard who’d rather sucker-punch a stranger at the bar than go home with the beautiful woman trying to pick him up. Who is this broken man? What eats at his heart and swims behind his eyes? The questions hang like storm clouds over the early scenes, a solitary life told in odd jobs and punchlines: Lee shoveling snow, Lee screwing in a lightbulb, Lee unclogging a toilet for a tenant who has the hots for him. Frances Ha editor Jennifer Lame gives this opening passage a certain comic pop, until a phone call sends Lee racing to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea—but not fast enough to say goodbye to his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), who’s just died of the degenerative heart condition he’s been afflicted with for years…

Lee becomes legal guardian to his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). April Wolfe, Village Voice: “That prompts a string of flashback sequences, where Lee seems an altogether different man; he’s jovial, physically affectionate, has a wife (Michelle Williams) and three kids. The impact is immediate — we now understand that something has happened to make him so cold, and it certainly cannot be good…”

Rex Reed, New York Observer, regarding Patrick: “It’s wrenching to observe the values of a boy too young for a driver’s license, sensitive, witty and highly intelligent enough to cope with his father’s death and the challenging alternative of living with a neurotic, estranged mother (Gretchen Mol) who lives in Connecticut with her emotionally blocked and religiously obsessed second husband (Matthew Broderick).”

The Trailer for Manchester by the Sea

Various Themes

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “It’s a masculine melodrama that doubles as a fable of social catastrophe…”

Matt Zoller “It’s a story about the complexity of forgiveness—not just forgiving other people who’ve caused you pain, but forgiving yourself for inflicting pain on others. It’s a story about parenting, of the biological, foster and improvised kind. And it’s a portrait of a tightly knit community that depends mainly on one industry, fishing, and that has evolved certain ways of speaking, thinking, and feeling.”

A.A. DowdAVClub: “Are there experiences so crushing that they ruin you forever? That’s the big question Lonergan asks, and we wait hopefully for a charitable answer.”

Selected Reviews

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “…heartbreaking yet somehow heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity and its access to despair.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a triumphant exploration of the way real people think and feel about grief, loss, love and survival that will stick in your gut and cling to your heart long after the final frame fades to black.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR:

a sprawling work that revels in its messiness, because being uncertain and uncomfortable and not knowing whether to laugh or cry when something happens is the real grist of humanity. One of the film’s final lines is ‘Do we have to talk about this now?’ But that’s what Manchester captures so beautifully about life: it’s a series of difficult conversations we’d rather avoid, about death and family and responsibility, and the ones that matter are with the people we love, or once loved, or will learn to love someday…

Dec 16

“You Can Count On Me”: Brother and Sister Reconnect

For all the bullying inspirational slogans hurled at us about never giving up on your dream, following your bliss and today being the first day of the rest of your life, the fact remains that most people’s lives run on fairly narrow tracks. And in the real world, as opposed to self-help fantasyland, once you find yourself on a track, it’s awfully hard to get off, even if it’s headed nowhere in particular. Stephen Holden, reviewing You Can Count On MeThe New York Times,  

On the occasion of the underseen film The Skeleton Twins (see previous post) being released on DVD, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight another brother/sister film, the character-driven You Can Count On Me, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan.  Not only was it one of the best movies of 2000 but also one of the best ever about sibling relationships. 

In brief, single-mom Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney), gets an unexpected visit from Terry (Mark Ruffalo), her brother and only sibling. FYI, their parents were killed in a car accident when they were kids.


Emanuel Levy, Variety: “Married and divorced at a young age, she’s an overprotective mother to her 8-year-old son, Rudy (Rory Culkin). Sammy conceals from her son any info about his absentee father, but the curious, susceptible boy stubbornly harbors romantic notions about him. Her emotional involvement with Bob (Jon Tenney), a goodhearted but not terribly exciting man, only partially fulfills her needs as a woman.”

Desson Howe, Washington Post: “…(S)he’s having trouble with her nitpicking boss (perennial manchild Matthew Broderick), who’s unsympathetic toward her child issues and objects to such things as purple-colored text on computer screens.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “Ms. Linney’s Samantha may be a responsible mother and churchgoing Catholic, but we learn that she was a wild teenager who has had to choke back her rebellious instincts in order to bring up her son. Even now, her innate rebelliousness still manifests itself in ways both small (she secretly smokes cigarettes) and large (she recklessly initiates an affair with her new boss, a persnickety straight arrow with a pregnant wife).”


Roger Ebert, “Terry is her easy-come, easy-go brother, one of those charmers who drives you nuts because you love him but you can’t count on them.”

Emanuel Levy, Variety: “He’s depicted as an irresponsible, self-destructive man with a penchant for getting into fights and being arrested. Leaving a pregnant girlfriend behind, Terry comes home to borrow money.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, “He has pushed away grief by not committing anywhere, to anyone, and strewing mess in his wake.”


Desson Howe, Washington Post: “Sammy, who needs someone to watch Rudy, talks her brother into doing the honors. But although Terry connects wonderfully with Rudy, his idea of child care is hardly gleaned from Dr. Spock. He thinks nothing of lighting up a cigarette, cursing like a sailor and advising Rudy to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as he’s old enough.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “The culminating event, an excruciating, brilliantly executed scene of emotional chaos as old personal wounds are ripped open, is Terry’s impulsive, ill-advised decision to take Rudy on a surprise visit to meet his roughneck biological father (Josh Lucas) whom Samantha has built up as a hero to the boy.”


Stephen Holden, New York Times: “Samantha is furious and disappointed by her brother’s lack of direction and behavioral sloppiness. He in turn is contemptuous of her for remaining stuck in Scottsville, whose small-town atmosphere he finds suffocating.”

Carla Meyer, San Francisco Chronicle:

As adults, the siblings maintain their childhood confidant-adversary relationship. In one scene, they share a joint and a big secret before a casual remark turns into a testy exchange about Sammy’s parenting abilities. Later, when Sammy sends a clergyman to counsel the aimless Terry, he seems receptive, all the while plotting revenge on his sister. Just as any kid brother would.

The safety of their renewed family bond lets each sibling branch out. Sammy, so compulsively organized that she files personal correspondence along with her tax returns, rediscovers a wild side and engages in some surprising acts. Her brother, oblivious at first to Sammy’s need for him, warms to the idea of a family bond and becomes a father figure to Sammy’s son.