Manchester by the Sea / Manchester by the Sea. US © 2016 K Films Manchester. PC: Amazon Studios presents – in association with K Period Media – Pearl Street Films – The Media Farm – The Affleck/Middleton Project – Big Story – in association with Big Indie Pictures – CMP – OddLot Entertainment. P: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Gigi Pritzker, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh. D+SC: Kenneth Lonergan. CIN: Jody Lee Lipes – camera: Arri Alexa XT – camera format: Codex – source format: ARRIRAW 3.2K – master format: digital intermediate 2K – colour – 1,85:1 – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Ruth De Jong. AD: Jourdan Henderson. Set dec: Florencia Martin. Cost: Melissa Toth. Makeup: Liz Bernstrom. Hair: Frank Barbosa. SFX: Michael Dias. VFX: Hectic Electric. M: Lesley Barber. S: Jacob Ribicoff. ED: Jennifer Lame. Casting: Douglas Aibel.
C as edited in Wikipedia:
Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler
Michelle Williams as Randi, Lee's former wife, now remarried
Kyle Chandler as Joseph "Joe" Chandler, Lee's brother
Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler, 16-year-old son of Joe and Elise
Ben O'Brien as young Patrick
Gretchen Mol as Elise Chandler, Joe's former wife
C. J. Wilson as George, the Chandlers' family friend
Tate Donovan as Patrick's hockey coach
Kara Hayward as Silvie McGann, one of Patrick's girlfriends
Anna Baryshnikov as Sandy, one of Patrick's girlfriends
Heather Burns as Jill, Sandy's mother
Erica McDermott as Sue, boat yard boss
Matthew Broderick as Jeffrey, Elise's fiancé
Oscar Walhberg as Joel, Patrick's friend
Stephen Henderson as Mr. Emery, Lee's boss
Loc: Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, USA.
Released in Finland by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland / The Walt Disney Company Nordic with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Saliven Gustavson. Day of Finnish premiere: 24 Feb 2017.
2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, 25 Feb 2017.
I belong to the admirers of Margaret (2008 / 2011). That previous film directed by Kenneth Lonerghan was not theatrically released in Finland, but I was happy to discover it at Love & Anarchy the Helsinki Film Festival. Margaret it is one of the great films of the last ten years or so, and I have since been looking forward to the director's next movie. Meanwhile I have yet to see Lonerghan's debut feature You Can Count on Me (2000). All these three films by Lonerghan seem to share favourite actors and a similar approach to life.
Like Margaret, Manchester by the Sea is about coming to terms with catastrophe. In Margaret the protagonist whose name is Lisa, not Margaret (the title of the film is a reference to a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins), incarnated by Anna Paquin, is immature and not fully aware of the consequences of her actions nor of her very presence as a young woman. In a way Lisa is a walking minefield, taking first steps in becoming conscious of her impact. Margaret is a special and unique coming of age story.
In Manchester by the Sea catastrophe has already taken place when the film starts but for a long time we have no idea what it is all about. We get to know the protagonist Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) as a loner, a recluse, a janitor in Boston who takes care of his responsibilities professionally but without the tiniest bit of friendly courtesy. Lee is not helping any when there are difficult / impossible customers. His callous indifference makes matters worse and needlessly complicates things. Lee frequents bars but does not want to contact anyone, and after a few drinks he can turn irrationally violent. He seems to be courting disaster, perhaps even suicidally. In his way he is a walking minefield, too.
Puzzlingly, we see in flashbacks a completely different Lee: a happy family man with a wife called Randi (Michelle Williams) and three children. He is good company, fun to be with, with many friends with whom he wants to party. We start to guess that he is divorced, and the separation has turned him into the depressive hermit he is now.
What brings him back to his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea is the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). In his will Joe has made Lee the guardian of the 16 year old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe's son, Lee's nephew. Lee is ill at ease, and it is out of the question for him to stay at Manchester-by-the-Sea which would be essential for Patrick because of his school, hockey and basketball teams, rock band, the beloved family boat, and two girlfriends. Although our first impression of Pat is that he is clumsy and morose and violent a bit like Lee he is in fact popular. He has a lot of friends and more female attention than he can handle.
Little by little we draw close to a flashback of the traumatic shocking event that has turned everything upside down. One night after a party with friends Lee had left the house to fetch more beer, having forgotten to install a safety grille at the fireplace. Apparently a log had come down from the fireplace and set the house on fire. During Lee's absence of 40 minutes all three children of Lee and Randi burned to death, and Randi barely survived thanks to firefighters.
Lee is devastated beyond words, and visibly dismayed by the fact that he is not facing any legal punishment he grabs a police officer's gun and tries to shoot himself, but is prevented to do so at the last second. Lee never recovers and is reduced to a ghostly existence. Still he manages to be of real help to Pat who seems to be able to navigate better in his crisis of losing his father and being orphaned than his legal custodian Lee in his. Nevertheless Pat needs a father figure and appreciates Lee's presence.
Randi is newly married with a baby. There is a willpower and stamina in Pat which keep him going. A way is found to rescue Joe's beloved Claudia Marie boat [this real-life name of the boat is in honour of an actual Manchester-by-the-Sea family tragedy], now belonging to Pat; the boat is in acute need of a new engine. Lee has been living in deep freeze, but the recent turbulence may have moved and shaken him in a good way. Life goes on.
Like in Margaret, Lonerghan displays a special talent in a dense, novelistic approach. The characters are well rounded personalities including supporting characers such as Gretchen Mol as Pat's mother Elise and Matthew Broderick as Jeffrey, his new fiancé. Although Elise seems to have beaten alcoholism a reunion vignette is sufficient for us to understand why it would be impossible for Pat to return to his mother.
Lonerghan's command of the complex flashback structure is assured.
Shot in Massachusetts, the movie's sense of place is intense. The atmosphere of the north coast of the Atlantic Ocean is palpable. The present of the narrative takes place from February to May. The coming of spring introduces a current of hope amidst tragedy.
Like in Margaret, the score is important, and music replaces dialogue in key scenes. There are selections from Händel and Massenet, rock numbers by Pat's band called Stentorian, and a complete performance of the composition called "Albinoni's Adagio" (actually composed by Remo Giazzotto in 1958 in homage to Albinoni). That tune was an inspired discovery for film scoring when first used by Resnais and Welles in the early 1960s but long ago it has turned into a funeral standard. Lonerghan's inspired idea is to use it intentionally as a standard, and the tune is revitalized as a bridge from Joe's funeral to the flashback of the burning of Lee's home.
The cinematography of Margaret by Ryszard Lenczewski was immaculate. The movie had been shot on 35 mm and transferred to digital so exquisitely that I was not able to tell the difference between film and digital although I saw the movie on one of the biggest screens of the country. I had to climb to the projection room to make sure it was really a DCP and not a film print we had seen.
The miracle of cinematography is similar in Manchester by the Sea, but this time the process is all digital, and the cinematographer is Jody Lee Lipes. Yet there is the same subtle poetry of light and nuance, an attention to fine soft detail, and tenderness in observing lighting conditions in different times of the day and different seasons. I was so enthralled by the cinematography that, contrary to my habit, I refrained from taking notes.
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: FROM THE MANCHESTER BY THE SEA PRODUCTION NOTES:
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: FROM THE MANCHESTER BY THE SEA PRODUCTION NOTES:
In Manchester by the Sea, the latest film from award-winning writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, the life of a solitary Boston janitor is transformed when he returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew. The story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, Manchester by the Sea is a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.
After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him.
In his first film since 2011’s acclaimed Margaret, Lonergan once again proves himself a powerful and visionary storyteller as he seamlessly weaves past and present together, crafting a tension-filled tale that deftly eschews sentimentality in favor of penetrating emotional insight and deeply affecting human relationships.
Manchester By the Sea is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret). The film stars Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn), Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights,” Zero Dark Thirty), Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page, Rounders) and C.J. Wilson (The Intern, “The Americans”).
Producers are Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, the Bourne franchise), Kimberly Steward (Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People), Chris Moore (The Adjustment Bureau, Good Will Hunting), Lauren Beck (Junkyard Dogs, From the Future with Love) and Kevin J. Walsh (The Way Way Back, War of the Worlds).
Director of photography is Jody Lee Lipes (Trainwreck, Martha Marcy May Marlene). Editor is Jennifer Lame (Mistress America, Paper Towns). Composer is Lesley Barber (The Moth Diaries, You Can Count on Me). Production designer is Ruth De Jong (The Master, The Tree of Life). Costume designer is Melissa Toth (Adventureland, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Executive producers are Josh Godfrey (Transcendence, Mirror Mirror), John Krasinski (“The Office,” The Hollars), Declan Baldwin (Still Alice, Captain Fantastic) and Bill Migliore (Leaves of Grass, Thanks for Sharing). Co-producer is Ryan H. Stowell (Puncture, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Associate producer is Katie Pastore (He’s Just Not That Into You, The Bourne Ultimatum).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For the past two decades, Oscar®-nominated screenwriter, director and playwright Kenneth Lonergan has been quietly building a reputation as one of the most original voices in contemporary American filmmaking, crafting exquisitely emotional movies like You Can Count on Me and Margaret that have garnered rave reviews and multiple awards. Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan’s latest cinematic effort, earned universal praise at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
The idea for the movie originated on the set of the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau, where actor Matt Damon and his frequent collaborator, producer Chris Moore, were brainstorming possible projects for Damon’s directing debut. Actor John Krasinski was also on set and the three spent evenings kicking around story ideas that eventually yielded the seed for what would become Manchester by the Sea.
From the beginning, Damon was a determined advocate for the story of a man whose life has been decimated by a single moment of unsteady judgment. He signed on as producer and made plans to both direct and star in the film. “Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful movie about a man who has to take care of his nephew after his brother dies,” says Damon. “The problem is that coming back to his hometown means he has to face the greatest tragedy of his life.”
It was Damon who proposed approaching Lonergan to write the script. The two first met when the actor starred in the 2002 London production of the writer’s play, “This is Our Youth.” “Kenny’s writing is peerless,” says Damon, himself an Oscar-winning screenwriter. “Saying those words night after night gave me an appreciation for how perfectly they were crafted.”
Intrigued by the premise, Lonergan spent the next two years exploring and expanding the initial events, themes and characters into an original story of his own. The screenplay that emerged is a complex, intricately layered tale that centers on Lee Chandler, who has grown up with his brother Joe, fishing the northeastern Massachusetts coastline and repairing the yachts of their wealthier neighbors.
Joe has built a healthy business for himself and his son Patrick, but at the time the story begins Lee has fled Manchester to live in a Boston neighborhood where he ekes out a solitary existence as a custodian for a group of small working-class apartment buildings. A reliable and dedicated worker, Lee unblocks drains and takes out trash, letting off steam in local pubs (and occasional bar fights.) His strict routine allows him to interact with other people as infrequently as possible.
Lonergan’s screenplay slips skillfully through time in a series of flashbacks that gradually reveal the secrets of Lee’s past, building to the shattering moment that drove him away from his home. As the truth gradually emerges, the reasons for Lee’s self-imposed exile begin to take shape.
When Damon’s jam-packed schedule forced him to bow out as the film’s star and director, Lonergan took over the helm. Still, Damon’s continued support for the project was crucial to getting it produced, says Moore. “This is true auteur filmmaking. We all backed Kenny’s vision and let a great storyteller tell his story the way he wanted to.” Producer Kimberly Steward of K Period Media chose this film as the debut production of her new company based on the power of Lonergan’s script. “Kenny’s language is amazing and his ability to portray darkness, while still maintaining humor and wit, is something I haven’t really seen before,” she says. “We all had so much love and respect for Kenny. He’s decisive, confident, and has the ability to get his point across quite eloquently.”
The screenplay moved producer Kevin J. Walsh to tears. “I cried many times reading this,” he says. “I was really touched by the script’s honesty and authenticity, because in real life things are not always neatly buttoned up. To be able to work on a movie like this even once in my life makes me really happy.”
One thing everyone involved with the movie agrees on is that Lonergan is one of the most powerful screenwriters working today. Deeply empathetic and often scathingly witty, Manchester by the Sea captures the lives and the language of working-class New Englanders with startling accuracy. “This is a movie that will stay with people,” says Damon. “His characters are so deeply and richly drawn, with such great detail, that you believe in them. A lot of movie characters are pencil sketches. But Kenny’s really resonate because they feel like real life. With actors and writing of this caliber and Kenny’s direction, the movie is unforgettable.”
Lonergan’s unique writing style may someday be recognized as the voice of a generation, in Moore’s opinion. “But he’s not just a great writer. He’s a masterful director as well. I don’t think anybody could direct his material the way he does. It is so subtle and nuanced, so carefully crafted, that only he can do it justice. Kenny did a great job of bringing humor and life to a difficult situation. I was blown away by the emotional spectrum — its authenticity, its warmth and also its rawness.”
Lonergan is able to make audiences care about his fictional characters as if they were people they have known their whole lives, observes Moore. “He writes human drama and dialogue better than anyone I’ve ever seen. As a director, he has a real sense of who the actor should be, what the performances should be. It’s a hard film to label because it’s complex and elusive and even grand. Kenny writes in such a way that you can’t be sure what’s going to happen next. Two characters collide and that collision changes them both. Audiences will feel like they have seen real people and they’re going to root for these characters.”
Based on the acclaim for Lonergan’s two previous films, Moore believes audiences will be drawn to Manchester by the Sea to see what the director has come up with next. “It’s been a long time since Kenny has directed,” he continues. “I think there’s a pent-up demand for his work. He’s an artist who captures real life on the screen and examines relationships in an honest way.”
There are no easy answers or convenient conclusions in Lonergan’s films, just as there are none in real life, according to Walsh. “Things don’t always end neatly,” he says. “There are hard knocks that come. At any moment, anyone can be disrupted, anything can happen. We are all just players in the greater scheme.”
THE CHANDLERS OF MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA
As a director, Lonergan has been widely praised for eliciting astonishingly detailed, often poignant work from his actors, on both stage and screen. With a cast that includes Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and young Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea is a gallery of affecting performances.
After his life was upended in a single night, Lee Chandler, played by Affleck, works as a janitor in a down-and-out part of Boston. “Lee has all but given up on other people,” says Damon. “He’s living a dead-end existence as a handyman. He drinks too much. He’s completely disengaged from life, except for his devotion to his brother Joe and Joe’s son Patrick.”
Damon and Affleck had many discussions about how deeply connected Lee remains to Joe, even as he isolates himself from the rest of the world. His brother’s last act is an attempt to force Lee to reengage with the world. “Lee prefers not to spend time in his hometown, but he returns anytime Joe calls,” says Damon. “When his brother dies, Lee is on the road in 10 minutes to take care of all the details and to make sure Patrick is told about his father’s death in the right way by the right person. He does it all with more thoroughness and commitment to getting it done right than 100 ordinary weeping relatives. As much as he wants to be completely disengaged from life, Joe keeps him tethered to family.
“This is one of the best roles I’ve seen in a long time,” Damon adds. “I can’t think of anyone who could do it as well as Casey. He locked right in and did something no other actor could do.”
Affleck appeared in the London production of Lonergan’s “This is Our Youth” alongside Damon. “We’ve been friends ever since,” says Lonergan. “I think he’s one of the best actors out there. I knew he was going to be good in the part, but I didn’t have any idea how spectacularly nuanced and emotional his acting was going to be. Casey was extremely demanding of me — and of everyone — in a way that was stimulating and productive.
Often, in exhaustive — and exhausting — conversations about character, something gets lost. Instead, Casey burrows into the situation and unearths more and more details throughout the shoot. He builds the specifics and detail he discovers until the character is real for both of us. It is a very exciting creative exercise. He was also totally unselfish in using all his experience in front of and behind the camera to make sure I was focused on making the movie I wanted to make, and in doing whatever he could to help me do what I wanted to do.”
By revealing Lee’s history in snippets throughout the film, Lonergan creates an intriguing mystery that pulls the audience in, says Affleck. “You get to know and love the characters before you start to learn things about the past. They’ve all got some struggles, small and large. Lee is trying to discover a reason to keep going and eventually he finds that in the relationship with his nephew. It’s funny, it’s sad. And it feels very, very real.”
But for Lee, the relationship with Patrick has an inherent cost. Manchester by the Sea is a place he wants desperately to avoid. “It’s just too charged for him there,” says Lonergan. “It’s a very small community. He can’t go anywhere without people knowing who he is and what happened to him. It’s torture for him to see any of the people there. But he has to come to help out with his nephew. He’s put in a position of either having to drag the nephew away, or stay somewhere where he can’t stand to be.”
Lee has experienced things that would destroy most people, says Affleck. “He’s haunted by the past and has run away from everything he knows, because it’s too painful.” Everywhere he goes, Lee faces the whispers of his former neighbors. “Lee doesn’t want to be around anybody who knows what actually happened to him,” says Affleck. “In Boston, nobody has any idea. But Patrick wants to stay in his town for the exact reason Lee doesn’t want to be there — his history.”
“Casey is a different actor than anybody working,” says producer Moore. “He has a very quick wit and a lot of depth. He brings so much emotion to his work. There’s some very sharp dialogue between Lee and Patrick. Casey’s deft sense of humor brings something unique to those exchanges. He really has an interesting approach to the role. I’m always impressed by his work, but this is a career-high role for Casey.”
As good as it is, Affleck’s performance is matched scene after scene by Lucas Hedges, who plays Patrick. Even though he has lost his father and been abandoned by his mother, Patrick is in many ways a typical teenager. At 15, he has a good life that he just wants to hold onto.
“He’s in a band, he’s on the hockey team, he’s got everything he loves in Manchester, including two girlfriends,” says Damon. “Joe was his primary caretaker. He was a great dad, but he’s gone and the kid still needs a father as he tries to figure out the future.” With a resilience forged by the difficult circumstances of his upbringing, Patrick is as eager to get on with life as his uncle is to avoid it. “He’s a teenager who is hurting and he’s got his guard up,” says Walsh. “He doesn’t quite comprehend that anybody’s life matters outside of his own. That’s the gist of the arguments between Lee and Patrick. They are unable to meet halfway.”
Lonergan saw many young actors for the part before casting Hedges in the role. Currently a student at North Carolina School of the Arts, Hedges has already appeared in a handful of prestigious films including Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Lucas is just super talented,” says Lonergan. “He’s incredibly sensitive and really nice to be around. It’s a tricky role and he brings tremendous emotional life to the part. Patrick has been through a lot in his life, but it hasn’t broken his spirit. He has a certain buoyancy that Lucas embodies naturally. He’s also a smart ass. He’s tough, he’s totally relentless and really funny — all qualities it was thrilling to watch Lucas discover in himself and bring to life. It’s not just a talented kid acting natural for the camera. It’s a beautiful, detailed character turn from a very young actor; something you don’t see every day.”
Hedges’ father, writer Peter Hedges, has known Lonergan for over 20 years from the New York theater world. “Apparently I met Kenny when I was 2 years old,” says the actor. “I was in a stroller. It’s the coolest thing that 16 years later, I’m in one of his movies.” But Hedges didn’t have to resort to nepotism to get the part. “My agent sent me in just like everybody else,” he says. “Patrick was the last major role to be cast. I had four or five auditions before they asked me to come up to Boston and read with the entire cast. Kenny offered me the part on the train ride back to New York.”
Although Patrick is clearly in need of a father figure, it’s not clear that Lee is up for the challenge. “Patrick just wants love from Lee,” says Hedges. “He had a great relationship with his dad and he wants the same with Lee. He also wants to keep this life that he’s been living. He loves his home and friends. In many ways, his life is good.”
But Lee is desperate to get back to Boston, disrupting Patrick’s education and social life. “When Lee arrives, he’s like a robot,” says Hedges. “He doesn’t have emotions any more. Patrick tries to bring him some humanity by joking and making fun of him. When Lee doesn’t give him what he wants, Patrick gets mad and fights back. It’s unfair to take him out of his home and bring him to Boston.”
Affleck is one of Hedges’ acting heroes, according to the young performer. “I respect him so much. He doesn’t care what people think. He’s here to work. I appreciate the way he talks to colleagues and the ownership he took of his role. He showed me that a movie is ultimately the director’s vision, but the actor can have his own influence.”
Hedges’ enthusiasm for working with Lonergan is just as profound. “I’ve worked with writer-directors before and they are usually better at one thing or the other,” says Hedges. “Kenny is the best of both. He is one of the few screenwriters and playwrights working today who writes the way people talk. The dialogue sometimes overlaps, which I had never seen before. Not everyone speaks in monologues. Kenny captures the messiness of real life.
“And as a director, he spent so much time with me working out why I say something or how a scene should be played,” he continues. “He wanted go behind the scenes with me to explore Patrick’s past, his memories and insecurities, why he does what he does.” Hedges says he realizes he may never get another role as full and rich as Patrick Chandler. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone my age to play a character so well developed and well written,” he says. “There’s no way to know if it will ever happen again, so I’m grateful to have this chance.
Joe Chandler, the man who sets the film’s action in motion, is a salt-of-the-earth family man who has raised his son on his own, knowing that he has a heart condition that will likely put him in an early grave. With his last act, he tries to bring together the people who mean the most to him, in an effort to save them both. “He has tried for years to help Lee,” says Walsh. “By putting Patrick in his care, he is forcing his little brother to come out of his shell inch by inch. It’s a very loving way to try and help Lee get over his depression and his loss.”
Kyle Chandler, who plays Joe, first came to Lonergan’s attention as an FBI agent in pursuit of Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street. “He jumped out at me in that movie,” says the director. “He played the part with such great humor, as if he were amused by his quarry. I thought it was an amazing choice. I was really happy that he was able to do the part.”
Steward agrees, saying that Chandler quite naturally stepped into the role of big brother in real life. “Kyle gave great advice to every one on the set, kept their spirits up and brought a cool, calm and collected dynamic to film.”
A fisherman who works the Massachusetts waters, Joe is a mainstay of his tight-knit community. “Joe still lives in the town where he and Lee grew up,” says Chandler. “He has known for a while that he has a limited amount of time to live. When he passes, he leaves responsibility for his 15-year-old son to Lee. He knows Lee would do anything for Patrick and hopes that it can help heal his brother. It takes Lee by surprise and doesn’t make him happy, but it may save his life in the long run. The story is really about family and about one man’s struggle with this immense responsibility that is thrown on him. Lee’s heart is in the right place, but it’s not certain that he can deal with what he’s confronted with.”
Reading the script for the first time was an emotional experience for Chandler. “It’s unusual for me to be so moved by a first read,” he says. “When I finished, I walked around wondering why I was crying. I read it again and I cried again. I met with Kenny the next day and we talked for an hour. I walked out thinking, gosh, I hope I get this. I got lucky as hell. I hope I’m lucky enough to work with him again.”
If the quality of the writing was his main reason for signing on, Chandler knew he had made the right decision as soon as shooting began. “Kenny’s direction is astonishing and I don’t say that often,” notes Chandler. “After I saw the movie for the first time at Sundance, I realized it is a type of movie I had never seen before. It is so specifically Kenny’s voice. He’s not only very intelligent, he’s also one of the most honest people I’ve met. He knows how life works and he’s able to put that on the screen. I am a tremendous fan.”
Michelle Williams delivers an emotional, finely wrought performance as Randi, Lee’s more resilient ex-wife. “She is spectacular,” says Lonergan. “I’ve wanted to work with her for quite a long time, since she was a teenager doing Off Broadway plays in New York. She’s become one of the most talented, versatile actresses out there, as well as an incredibly nice person.”
Williams’ natural intelligence and authentic vulnerability made her the perfect choice for the role, says Affleck. “Her honesty is undeniable,” he adds. “Her characters always seem like real people, which means the audience is able to truly care about her.” Steward recounts with awe the actress’s first day on set. With the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, Williams was outside wearing only a nightgown in the New England winter. “She did take after take of this incredibly emotional scene and each one was perfection. Her transformation was astounding. Michelle is so delicate and soft-spoken and Randi is a lot more aggressive and edgy.”
Williams says she was so overcome when she was offered the role that she actually cried. “I’ve always wanted to work with Kenny,” says the actress. “Nobody writes dialogue like he does. It’s completely natural and effortless. I’ve wanted to work with his words for a long time. You just have to hang on to the back of them. And he is one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. He keeps things entertaining.”
During their marriage, Lee and Randi have a warm, lived-in relationship full of humor and banter. “And then everything falls apart,” Williams says. “Casey has a lot of integrity and depth. I didn’t have to dig very deep to find those qualities in him.” With a limited amount of screen time, Williams creates an indelible portrait of a woman still struggling, but trying to recover from tremendous loss. “It was an unusual experience,” Williams says. “Because I’m not in the movie that much, I spent more time preparing for it than shooting it. Boston isn’t far from New York, so I would take the train up and walk around, go to coffee shops and shopping malls to absorb the place and the people and the accent. In relation to my time shooting the film, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the area.”
Williams’ tremulous beauty is almost a distraction from the depth of her performance, says Moore. “It seems like the camera captures her soul. She represents the exact inverse way of reacting to tragedy than what Lee did. She’s not over it, she still cries. It’s still heartbreaking to her but she decided to power forward, and keep going. Michelle brings all of that just by being in the movie.”
Also appearing in the film is Gretchen Mol in a touchingly fragile performance as Elise, Joe’s ex-wife and Patrick’s mother. “That was a very hard part to cast,” says Lonergan. “I had a very clear idea of the character in my head. Elise is very troubled, very bright, tense and anxious. She’s trying hard, but isn’t able to do what she wants and doesn’t know why. That’s a very hard thing to act. Gretchen brings this wonderful vulnerability that was exactly right for it.”
Tony Award®-winning actor Matthew Broderick plays Elise’s second husband, a soft-spoken but rigid evangelical Christian who has no room in his ordered life for a troubled teenager. A veteran of both of Lonergan’s earlier films, Margaret and You Can Count on Me, Broderick’s low-key charm and self-effacing manner mask an intolerance that makes Patrick feel unwelcome in his mother’s new home.
“Matthew is my best friend and one of my very, very favorite actors,” says Lonergan. “His range alone is breathtaking. I’ve been watching him act since we were in high school. He has a sense of humor second to none and a sense of character and story that I have almost never seen in another performer. His subtlety is mind-blowing, but it’s his sense of reality that I rely on and admire the most. It’s so deeply ingrained in him — to stay alive and awake, under the given circumstances — that even your occasional bad ideas and worst impulses can’t really dislodge him from it. It’s very grounding. And even though he wears it lightly, he brings a quiet respectful professionalism to the set. He makes you feel like you’re all working on something important. He’s very relaxed about it, but it’s always there, and it gives everyone — especially me — great confidence.”
Given the quality of the performances in Manchester by the Sea , it seems hard to believe that this was Lonergan’s first time working with most of the actors. “That’s something I don’t often do. I tend to work with the same people over and over — like Matthew, or Mark [Ruffalo] or J. [Smith-Cameron, who is also Lonergan’s wife]. I’m not a big risk taker. Or maybe it’s better to say when I see a good thing I like to stick with it. I’ve only made three movies, and with the other two I could count on one hand the number of people I hadn’t worked with before or didn’t know personally.
“It was really exciting to see these actors put so much effort and intelligence into everything,” he continues. “Working with them to bring characters who used only to exist in my imagination into three-dimensional life, right before my eyes, is humbling and very gratifying. They show up and become someone you’ve only imagined. And they bring with them a complexity and depth of feeling and specificity of thought and behavior far, far beyond anything you might have cooked up on your little computer. It’s an absolute miracle to me, and I love them for it.”
THE REAL NEW ENGLAND
Shot in the Cape Ann region of northern Massachusetts, Manchester by the Sea captures the rugged beauty of the rocky shoreline, coves and marinas of Cape Cod’s lesser known cousin, as well as the working-class neighborhoods that the Chandlers and their friends call home. From late February to early May of 2015, Lonergan and his team filmed in several of the small cities that dot the area, roughly 30 miles northeast of Boston, including Manchester, Gloucester, Essex, Rockport and Beverly.
The transition from winter into spring was an important metaphor for the director, says Steward. “He was very specific about needing to capture that on film,” she remembers. “It felt deeply connected to characters’ transitions.”
Winter in the area was very cold, but very beautiful, according to Lonergan. “In Cape Ann, you are never far from water,” he notes. “I loved being by the ocean and inlets all the time. I loved shooting on the boat and in the dockyards and houses, even when we were in triple overtime and I just wanted to go to bed. Plus, the food was great. My favorite restaurant was the Clam Box in Ipswich, which has the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had.”
Both Damon and Affleck grew up in Massachusetts and know the area well. “It’s the part of the world that I know best,” says Affleck. “The fishing towns of Massachusetts are filled with working-class guys struggling to get by and that fits the story. I hope my familiarity with the surroundings brings a certain level of authenticity to it.”
Production designer Ruth De Jong developed a slightly gritty, realistic look for the film’s blue-collar settings. Almost everything was shot on location to keep it as natural as possible, she says. “When I first met with Kenny, we both agreed that we wanted to play this as true to life as we could, almost like a documentary. I always want the actors to be able to engage with the sets. But the idea was not to create a gray, miserable setting. I tried to give all of the character’s homes a very natural tone, keeping them bright and cheery as much as possible. Kenny was very keen on giving things an everyday feeling.”
The first priority for the designer was to learn as much as she could about the people who inhabit the surrounding area. “Getting to the essence of who these people are was critical,” she says. “It took a lot of research and scouting. We spent time with the fishermen and working-class folks who live in these areas, as opposed to the people who use it as a vacation spot.”
De Jong is particularly pleased with the authenticity of the skating rink where Patrick’s hockey practice takes place. “We had to do almost nothing to it. It’s a beautiful vintage rink with wooden bleachers. It has a lot of texture and beautiful natural light. Even better, the local companies who advertise there wanted to participate; everything is the real deal.”
Working on Manchester by the Sea was the most collaborative experience she has ever had, says the designer. “The people were awesome. Everybody was excited to be there, and so hands on. We just had a lot of depth and richness there. Casey jumped in and scouted with me. When everybody’s working together on it, it helps the picture immensely.”
The emphasis on authenticity extended to the cinematography as well. According to director of photography Jody Lee Lipes, “Kenny didn’t want the film to have a visual style that called attention to itself in any way. He wanted to tell the story in a matter-of-fact way without any distractions. It’s very straightforward with a normal aspect ratio, no extreme framing or overly thought-out shots. It’s just natural and frank storytelling. The writing and the acting are what’s important to him, so I just got out of the way.”
The film was shot using the Arri Alexa digital camera. “Alexa is a great alternative to film,” says Lipes. “We used some older lenses to make it softer and more like film.” Making sure that Lonergan got exactly what he envisioned was Lipes’ first priority. “Kenny is a gifted artist with a demanding eye,” he says. “The challenge was always making sure he was able to fulfill his vision. My job was often to get what he needed in the fewest shots possible, without worrying too much about the technical aspects. Because he is also a playwright, he thinks about storytelling from a proscenium point of view. It’s like he imagines it all taking place on a stage.”
Although not initially familiar with the region, Lonergan went to great lengths to recreate the flavor of New England’s coastal environs. “I hope we captured the real-life richness, depth and life in the film. The more specific you are, the more lifelike fiction is, and the more accurate you can be.”
Lonergan’s purpose was never to provide a neat closure or easy resolution for Lee and Patrick. Some people, he says, find ways to live with real tragedy, but some people don’t. “I never know why I write about the things I end up writing about and this is no exception,” he says. “But my favorite part of filmmaking is that a story developed in the privacy of my own imagination becomes the emotional property of other people. The story is nurtured by your collaborators until it is finally passed along to an audience where — you hope — it becomes a part of their inner life.”
Manchester by the Sea Production Notes
SOUNDTRACK LISTING FROM THE IMDB
Pifa (Pastoral Symphony) -The Messiah
Composed by George Frideric Handel (uncredited)
Performed by Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra
(p) 2016 Milan Records
Sonata for Oboe & Piano, 1st Movement
Composed by George Frideric Handel
Performed by Gerhard Kanzian & Ed Lewis
(p) 2016 Milan Records
He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd; Come Unto Him - The Messiah
Composed by George Frideric Handel (uncredited)
Performed by Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra
(p) 2016 Milan Records
Adagio Per Archi E Organo In Sol Minore
Performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra
(p) 2016 Milan Records
I'm Beginning To See The Light
Written by Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James, and published in 1944.
Performed by The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald
Composed by Jules Massenet
Performed by Münchner Rundfunkorchester and the Choir Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera
(p) 2016 Milan Records
Let the Good Times Roll
Written by Shirley Goodman & Leonard Lee
Performed by Shirley Goodman & Leonard Lee (as Shirley & Lee)
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under License from Universal Music Enterprises
Written by Roosevelt Sykes
Performed by Albert King
Courtesy of Stax Records, by arrangement of Concord Music Group, Inc.
Cartoon Cat and Mouse
Written by Linda Martinez
Courtesy of 5 Alarm Music
45 Revolutions Per Minute
Written by Ryan Taylor
Performed by Oil Boom
Courtesy of Vu Music
Adagio in G Minor
Composed by Tomaso Albinoni & Remo Giazotto
Courtesy of X5 Music
I Gotta Run
Written by Jordan Richardson
Lyrics by Robert Karen
Performed by Stentorian
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Written & Performed by Bob Dylan
Courtesy of Capitol Records
By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Tell Me Why
Written by Jordan Richardson
Lyrics by Robert Karen
Performed by Stentorian
At My Front Door
Written by Ewart Abner (as Ewart Abner, Jr.), Johnny Moore
Performed by El Dorados
Courtesy of Vee-Jay Records
Used by Permission of Concord Music Group, Inc.
Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC.
Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'
Courtesy of the Ray Charles Foundation
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II (as Oscar Hammerstein)
Composed by Richard Rodgers
Performed by Ray Charles
Manchester By The Sea Chorale
Written by Lesley Barber