No-Spoilers Movie Reviews


My reluctance to see Manchester By The Sea was due to a stubborn desire to avoid downer movies. Who needs to pay $8 to be depressed for two hours?

But an impromptu invitation from a friend convinced me to shove aside preconceived notions, and boy, am I glad I did. This is an extraordinary film about ordinary people struggling with grief. Casey Affleck gives an amazing, understated performance as Lee Chandler, a man who’s surprised to learn he’s been named guardian of his 16-year-old nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Moments of grief are balanced by humorous, realistic dialogue, much of it between Lee and his nephew, Patrick, played with stunning authenticity by Lucas Hedges. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is a master storyteller, and aspiring screenwriters will note how he weaves the two related story lines, one told in flashbacks as the other unfolds in present day.

The music is an integral part of the storytelling – as in another recent film, Arrival – with soaring sopranos punctuating tragedy, and the innocence of choir voices underscoring scenes of hope and grace. (It’s a shame Lesley Barber’s soundtrack was disqualified for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, as was Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music for Arrival, due to being “diluted by the use of pre-existing music.”)

The movie comes full circle with opening and closing scenes that are almost mirror images of each other. They bookend a series of challenging life events that have the power to transform people, but not everyone.

Somehow, it all adds up to a life-affirming movie delivering messages of love and hope. Manchester By The Sea is one of the year’s best films, one that’s sure to win an armful of Academy Awards come Feb. 26.

Katherine Valdez writes no-spoilers movie reviews at Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Amazon and Medium.

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