By Linc Leifeste | December 2, 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Ben O’Brien, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick
In only his third turn in the director’s chair, Kenneth Lonergan has produced a brooding, complex, heart-wrenching little gem of an adult movie that is sure to garner Oscar nominations for actors Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams as well as likely one for Lonergan himself. Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a depressed loner of a Boston plumber who seems to barely exist other than to serve as a whipping boy for his frustrated customers or to occasionally throw a drunken punch at whoever rubs him the wrong way as he’s drowning his sorrows. But his life is thrown for a loop when older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away and leaves his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in Lee’s sole guardianship. Neither Lee nor Patrick are sure that Joe’s plan is for the best.
Lee has to take a break from his work to travel back to Manchester and figure out how to handle Patrick’s care. But being there brings about the opening of old wounds as he can’t help but run into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), who is remarried with a new baby. As the film slowly pulls back layers and painfully reveals the reasons behind Lee’s state in life, his depressed drudgery eeking out an existence comes to seem almost a herculean feat of survival in the face of earned despair. The scene in which the former husband and wife, in a private moment, allow their repressed grief to momentarily bubble to the top is brilliant and hard to watch. And for the record, while Affleck’s performance is top-notch throughout, Williams outshines him in the scene.
Patrick is clearly in need of a guardian, having just lost his father, and is trying to reconnect with his mother (Gretchen Mol), who has had mental health problems but is now remarried and seemingly in a better place in life. But joining them for a meal at their home, the couple’s born-again Christianity is off-putting and a bit creepy to Patrick and his mother’s new husband (Matthew Broderick) soon puts the kabosh on Patrick coming back into his mother’s life. But Lee has no interest in relocating back to Manchester and Patrick has no interest in uprooting his life near the end of his high school career by moving to Boston with Lee. Clearly something has to give and that process of watching this damaged family figure it all out makes the viewer feel as though they’ve been granted some kind of sacred glimpse behind the curtain to the profane and messy realities of a broken but beautiful family in crisis.