Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Kenneth Lonergan's portrait of ordinary people in desperate situations in which there aren't any simple solutions – or any solutions at all – mimics reality like few other works of art. The story is about a man of about 40 years of age (Casey Affleck) working as a custodian in the Boston area who receives a phone call that his brother is dying in their hometown hospital. Affleck must hurry home to deal with the situation, the formalities, and taking care of his 16 year old now fatherless nephew.
After an intro which feels like a gloomier and lest nostalgic The Big Chill, Manchester by the Sea reaches its dramatic and thematical summit in a strong middle part in which all the lead characters display different ways of dealing with the human emotions of loss and guilt. This is also where Lonergan really comes into his own as an observationalist and writer of characters, and where the three leads, Affleck, Michelle Williams as his ex-wife and the very talented Lucas Hedges as the bereaved son, excel with their deep and intelligent acting. Lonergan gets level-headed, understated performances from them, supporting his pragmatic approach. Despite their struggles, these characters never make a scene or pose for the camera, instead dealing with their problems rather privately. And since Lonergan's aim here is truthfulness, he never helps them move on by creating any sort of plot-driven outlet for them. His scenes aren't smooth-running and goal-oriented, but move along bumpily and are often left unresolved; their only pay-off being small glimpses of hope or happiness. Manchester by the Sea is about "living with", not "getting over", and for that, it is powerful, intense and painfully authentic.