Manchester By The Sea is a beautiful, brutal masterpiece.

Sitting through a screening of Manchester By The Sea is like being hit by an artfully created bus.

It leaves you bruised, battered and questioning all the life choices that led you to this particular moment, but then you ultimately decide that the pain was worth it. All  because you got to witness something of complete beauty.

Manchester By The Sea, a film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is most likely already on your radar thanks to the fact that it’s currently ripping through the awards season circuit.

The story follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who reluctantly returns to his hometown after his big brother Jo (Kyle Chandler) dies from congestive heart failure.

Jo’s 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is then left in the care of Lee. He is so visibly broken and haunted by the town that he once called home, I almost don’t want to know what events led to this character being left in such unimaginable pain.

Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck are brilliant in Manchester By The Sea.

The days that follow Lee's return to Manchester are the some of the most heartbreaking, and realistically mundane depictions of death that have ever been caught on film.

Watching characters die and mourn loved ones on the big screen has become so common place, and our expectations have been raised so high, that it takes just the right confection of characters, dialogue and cinematography to make us look up from our popcorn.

These tiny touches of humanity, coupled with an intense look at how humans handle tragedy, is what has struck such a cord with audiences across the world.

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Manchester By The Sea has a tearful scene in a hospital corridor after Lee learns of his big brother's death. We see his son Lucas breakdown in his bedroom, with only his shattered uncle to offer him some kind of comfort. We see a somber funeral scene where family and friends stand in black by a coffin while poignant music plays.

What Manchester By The Sea is not afraid to shy away from, is the side-affect of death that movies are usually too scared to mention.


You see, when people die, there's a whole lot of paperwork that needs to be done. You'd think watching too heartbroken characters ferry themselves endlessly between the hospital and funeral home and then have to deal with the fact that the ground is too frozen to bury their loved one would quickly become monotonous.

But it is these tiny moments of reality, carefully peppered throughout the film, that make the grief so realistic it practically jumps off the screen and wraps itself aggressively around your heart.

Since Manchester By The Sea first aired, much has been made of the performances of Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges who, while brilliant in their roles, cannot hold a candle to the performance given by Michelle Williams.

Sure, she's been put up for a slew of prestigious awards, but no one is calling this role the defining performance of her career, as they are with Affleck.

Michelle Williams in Manchester By The Sea.

As Lee's ex-wife Randi, Williams delivers a performance so nuanced and heartbreaking that I found myself gripped by it well after I had walked out of the cinema. I was actually shocked when I reflected on her scenes and figured out that she'd barley notched up 30 minutes of screen time.


Watching her pivotal Manchester By The Sea scene, in which, on a cold dismal street, she tells Lee that "her heart was broken" was enough to sucker-punch every audience member with the reality of what it's like to lose someone who is apart of her soul.

That was the moment when hot tears started quickly forming in my eyes, but they weren't for Randi. They were for people in the real world who I knew had lived this pain, how on earth could those people possibly still be standing?

Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea.

I'm sure all this talk of grief and pain and admin has turned you off seeing what is not exactly the feel good movie of the year, but that should not be the case at all.

We've somehow developed this expectation that good movies are not supposed to help us. That good movies should shock us, inspire us or at least tickle our funny-bones. But a good movie can also knock you down and leave you bruised, and that's exactly what Manchester By The Sea will do.

If you've suffered a loss, buried a family member or have been touched by a tragic death, then just make sure you tread carefully around this film.

And maybe buy yourself a comforting Choc-Top before you go in.

Manchester by the Sea is in cinemas Australia wide from Thursday February 2. It is rated M. 

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