With 16 scores of 100, Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful portrait of grief and sorrow, Manchester by the Sea as yet has no negatives. Not a single negative review and only praise. That makes it quite the powerful combination for not just being nominated for but winning Best Picture.
Joe Morgenstern, Kenneth Turan, and AO Scott all praise the film. In the post election fog, the NY Times’ esteemed writer, AO Scott dives into something about this genre Lonergan is dwelling in and how it relates to America in 2016, the lament of the white working class man. We sense that pre-election probably this would not be something to note about the film. I have to admit that I never once thought it. But it’s an interesting point to bring up:
Cast out of this working man’s paradise, Lee is also exiled from the prerogatives of whiteness. He lives in a basement room, earning minimum wage, answering to an African-American boss and accepting a tip from a black tenant whose toilet he has cleaned and repaired. He doesn’t complain, but it is also clear that he has chosen these conditions as a form of self-abasement, as punishment for his sins.
Maybe its sounds like I’m over-reading, or making an accusation. But to deny that “Manchester by the Sea” has a racial dimension is to underestimate its honesty and overlook its difficult relevance. Lee is guilty and angry, half-convinced that what happened was not his fault and half-certain that it was, unable to apologize or to accept apologies, paralyzed by grief and stung by a sense of grievance. He’s broken, and he’s also smart enough to realize — and Mr. Lonergan is wise and generous enough to allow him to understand — that nothing will make him whole again.
I suspect that there will be many films that fall into this category when we take stock of them at year’s end, even the frontrunner La La Land has shades of this, what once was and what can never be again. In fact, Scott makes me think about this, the last ten years of the fretful losing white male protagonist who tries to do the right thing, or the embrace of nostalgia of days gone by, to reflect on times when our heroes were familiar. I never really thought much about how this threads into the politics of the day, and surely no one ever figured it would turn as dark and as angry as it has become. But it’s an interesting concept, this.
There is no denying that much of what drives the success of Manchester by the Sea with critics, certainly, is to pay tribute to Lonergan, a great and devoted film artist who has never really seemed to get his proper due. It’s interesting that his film will sit alongside two films by African American directors — Fences and Moonlight — that express the black experience in America. All in all, the election seems to have unearthed and sparked many threads of thoughts in different directions.