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manchester-by-the-seaIn the idyllic, seaside town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, once lived Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) with his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three young children. He sometimes hangs out with his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) on Joe’s boat, the Claudia Marie – named after their mother. It is clear from the outset that Lee and his family are close.

Following a family tragedy, Lee moves away and is working as a handyman who keeps mostly to himself. His quiet existence is turned upside down when his brother dies suddenly of a heart attack, leaving him the sole guardian for 16-year-old nephew – Patrick’s mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol) having left the family many years earlier.

When Lee returns to Manchester, he is confronted by not only the sad realities of death – arranging for the funeral, the burial and all the legal ramifications – but also all the ghosts of his own past that he has never forgiven himself for.Throughout Manchester By The Sea, writer-director, Kenneth Longergan, takes us slowly on Lee’s journey from his once-happy life to the tragic figure we see trying to survive each day. He tries to remain emotionally detached from Patrick and his very active life and struggles to figure out his role as father-figure and friend. And along the way, we get moments of comic relief via Patrick’s active lifestyle- he is in a hockey team, plays in a band and is juggling two girlfriends at the same time.

Though the story is focused on Lee’s journey, the supporting cast of characters is equally compelling and steeped in reality: C.J. Wilson as George – Joe’s closest friend and business partner who ultimately provides the most critical support to the Chandler family; Matthew Broderick as Jeffrey, Elise’s fiance whose strong religious stance saves her from her addiction but ultimately fails to save her relationship with her son; Tate Donovan as Patrick’s hockey coach whose empathy touches only the surface of his charge’s pain; and Heather Burns as the single mother of one of Patrick’s girlfriends whose awkwardness in attempting to make small talk with Lee is another show of just how isolated he has made himself.

Last but certainly not least, Williams has once again shown how deep her emotional range can be in just the few brief scenes she appears. As Lee’s ex-wife, she goes from a happily-married young mother to a gut-wrenching new mother still grappling with the past, trying to find forgiveness from a man who barely wants to exist at all. I wished there had been a little more between Affleck and her.

Manchester By The Sea is now showing across Australia.