There’s a scene in Manchester by the Sea in which Casey Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler, is waiting in a parked car to pick his nephew up from a friend’s house when the friend’s mother comes out and unexpectedly invites Lee to join them for dinner. For what feels like minutes Lee appears to consider the proposition, staring into space searching for… something, only to eventually land on a quiet, reserved “no.”
Affleck’s acting here is indicative of the film as a whole, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a quiet and reserved movie that requires the audience to lean in with open ears, less they miss something half whispered. Like the careful consideration of a dinner proposition, the inner-workings of the characters and the narrative are elusive, like thoughtful eyes masking mental gymnastics. There’s a sparseness to Manchester by the Sea that makes the slightest flicker or dilation of a pupil feel like an over-caffeinated teenage eye roll.
But don’t get the wrong idea, the aforementioned sparseness is in no way indicative of laziness. The substance is undeniably there in every silent drive or meandering peak into the Chandler family’s past, but it’s presented with a confidence not only in the film’s script and actors but in the audience. Manchester by the Sea is the rare film that opts for authenticity over exposition. If there’s information about the characters the film doesn’t offer up its information the characters themselves wouldn’t offer up either. It’s a film that isn’t going to spell everything out for you because it trusts you know how to read.
Taking a page from Manchester by the Sea’s playbook, that’s all I have to say about it.