This morning I saw Manchester By the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.
Lee (Affleck) is a divorced repairman who lives a quiet life alone until his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies, leaving him guardianship of his only son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Because the two never discussed this arrangement, he must decide whether to relocate himself or his nephew to make it work.
We learn from flashbacks that Lee once had a family of his own, and in fact the first person he thinks to call when he learns of his brother's passing is his ex-wife. We also find out that he left his hometown because of an event that he caused many years prior, so being around the old neighborhood triggers bad memories.
Patrick is basically a good kid, but he's a teenager, so he selfishly doesn't want his school or his friends or his hobbies to change at all. He also wants to hold on to an expensive boat his dad owned.
Lee wrestles with the decisions he will soon have to make for both of them, and the film is basically his journey getting there.
First, let me say that all of the hype about Affleck's performance is justified. For being a character who's meant to appear numb in the majority of the scenes, he does a phenomenal job of convincing us that underneath that layer of numb lies tremendous pain. There is never a moment where we as audience members don't know how he feels, yet the people in his life likely have no clue.
The script is brilliant in that it absolutely nails the stages of grief; not by telling, but by showing.
From the denial in the first moments, when gathering logistical chores actually dulls the reality of the situation, to the rage of overreacting to little things—it's all there. I also like how the screenwriter elegantly planted "triggers" that would set the characters off emotionally, just like loss does in real life.
The pain here was raw, but the sentiment sincere and never overdone. I barely noticed the score (a good sign in a heavy drama) and imagined the characters existing long after the screen went dark on their small Massachusetts town.
I'll be baffled if this movie doesn't score several Oscar nods, and disappointed if it doesn't win at least some of them.