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Manchester by the Sea (film)

Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Produced by
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Music by Lesley Barber
Cinematography Jody Lee Lipes
Edited by Jennifer Lame
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 23, 2016 (2016-01-23) (Sundance)
  • November 18, 2016 (2016-11-18) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8.5 million[2]
Box office $77.7 million[3]

Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 American drama film[4][5][6][7] written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges. The film's plot follows a man's relationship with his teenage nephew as he cares for his nephew after his brother, the nephew's father, dies. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2016, and was soon picked up by Amazon Studios for distribution. Manchester by the Sea was filmed in the Massachusetts town of the same name as well as Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Swampscott, Lynn, Middleton, Tewksbury, and Salem, Massachusetts. It began a limited release on November 18, 2016, before a wide release on December 16, 2016. It grossed $77 million worldwide against an $8.5 million budget.

The film received critical praise and was widely counted among the best films of 2016. Critics particularly complimented the performances of Affleck, Hedges and Williams, as well as Lonergan's screenplay and direction. For the 89th Academy Awards, the film received six nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams), and Best Original Screenplay—winning for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. Affleck also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and the film itself was nominated in four other categories at the Golden Globes.


The story takes place in the present, while the narrative includes flashbacks that inform the viewer of significant events from the past and the characters' motivations. The protagonist is Lee Chandler, a janitor and handyman, who lives a solitary life in a basement apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The movie opens with scenes of him performing tasks for tenants of the apartment complex where he works. His interaction with them is minimal. After being reprimanded by his boss for swearing at an irritated tenant, he gets into a drunken bar fight with two businessmen believing they were "looking" at him.

Lee receives word that his brother Joe has suffered a cardiac arrest but he dies before Lee can get to the hospital. Lee insists on being the one to tell Joe's teenage son, Patrick, about his father's death. While making funeral arrangements, they learn that Joe's body cannot be buried until spring when the ground thaws. Lee remains in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts until the delayed burial.

At Joe's lawyer's office, Lee is shocked to discover that his brother named him as Patrick's legal guardian. During the scene, the viewer is shown — through flashbacks — that Lee once lived in Manchester with his then-wife Randi and their three small children, until his negligence while intoxicated led to a house fire that killed the children. No criminal charges were filed against him. However, after being questioned at the police station, Lee grabbed a gun from an officer's holster and attempted suicide. In light of these events, Lee is reluctant to commit to the guardianship and unwilling to move back to Manchester, where the locals treat him as an outcast.

He is opposed to Patrick reconnecting with his mother, Elise (who, through flash-backs, is shown to have had substance abuse problems and abandoned the family), so Lee begins planning for Patrick to move to Boston with him. Patrick is deeply rooted in the Manchester community and strongly objects to the idea. Lee commits to staying but only through to the end of the school year.

Over time, Patrick and Lee re-establish bonds, although conflict continues between them when it comes to making decisions about Joe's boat, Patrick's girlfriends, and their future living arrangements. Over Lee's objections, Patrick emails Elise about Joe's death, and she invites him to have lunch with her. She has found Christianity and sobriety with her fiancé, Jeffrey, but during an awkward meal with them, Patrick finds himself unable to connect with her. He is unsettled further when Jeffrey emails him, insisting on being an intermediary in any future communication between Patrick and his mother. Lee's positive comments about Elise's sobriety lead Patrick to believe his uncle is trying to get rid of him, further straining their relationship. As a result, Lee takes steps to possibly extend his stay in Manchester, and begins to seek ways to spend more time with Patrick.

One day Lee runs into Randi, her newborn, Dylan, and friend Rachel. After Rachel leaves to get the car, a sobbing Randi expresses remorse for her treatment of Lee during their divorce and asks him to have lunch. Lee rejects her apology, feeling that he doesn't deserve it. When she insists that they reconnect, and pleads with him not to "just die," he leaves before he can become emotional. Distraught, a drunk Lee picks a fight with strangers at a bar, is knocked out, and rescued by George, a family friend. He awakens in George's home and breaks down in tears. At home, Patrick shows his uncle deference after observing his battered state, and having seen pictures of his deceased children in Lee's bedroom.

Lee arranges for George and his wife to adopt Patrick, so he can remain in Manchester while Lee gets a job in Boston. When Patrick asks Lee why staying is not an option, he admits that he "can't beat it." At this, Patrick cries and Lee comforts him. During a walk after Joe's burial service, Lee tells Patrick that he is searching for a residence in Boston with an extra room, so Patrick can visit whenever he wants. In the final scene, Lee and Patrick go fishing on Joe's refurbished boat that Patrick has inherited.


Director Kenneth Lonergan appears briefly as a pedestrian.


The film is a treatment of profound grief from which it is difficult or impossible to recover. In an essay in Cineaste magazine, Colin Fleming writes that "the question Lonergan invites us to ask ourselves is how on earth would we be able to carry on after an event so tragically full of loss and guilt."[8] Speaking to the persistence of grief, Film Comment magazine says that "Lonergan is telling us that Lee's grief cannot be contained or subdued because his past lives on wherever he goes."[9] Remarking on the way flash-backs appear suddenly during the movie, critic Anthony Lane says that Lonergan "proceeds on the assumption that things are hard, some irreparably so, and that it's the job of a film not to smooth them over."[10] However, one critic noted that juxtaposed with the tragedy is "the harsh comedy that colors much of the dialogue, and the near-farcical frequency with which things go wrong."[11] Along those same lines, critic Steven Mears called the film "a study of grief and reticence that finds droll humor in those very sources,"[12] and Richard Alleva says the loving but tense relationship between Lee and Patrick "keeps the story nicely balanced between rough hewn comedy and delicate pathos."[13] Explaining his objective, Lonergan said, "I don't like the fact that, nowadays, it feels like it's not permissible to leave something unresolved ... Some people live with their trauma for years. I'm not interested in rubbing people's faces in suffering ... But I don't like this lie that everybody gets over things that easily. Some people can't get over something major that's happened to them at all; why can’t they have a movie too?"[14]

The film's events take place through the cultural filter of a blue-collar, New England community. John Krasinski and Matt Damon initially approached Lonergan about developing the story in New England.[15] As Lonergan researched the areas surrounding Manchester-by-the-Sea, he sought to include details specific to the area, such as its distance from Quincy, the delayed burial because of the frozen ground in a historical cemetery, and the realities of fishing life.[15] Critic Sam Lansky remarked that the lead character's New England roots make him "disinclined to emote,"[16] and Tom Shone said that Lonergan's dialog forces "the story’s heartbreak to peep from behind these tough, flinty New England exteriors."[17]

Development and production

Matt Damon and John Krasinski had brainstormed a film about an "emotionally crippled" handyman, and brought the idea to Lonergan for his input, thinking that Krasinski would star and Damon would direct.[14] Damon had previously worked with Lonergan in a play and on the 2011 film Margaret.[18] Both actors became occupied with other projects while Lonergan worked on the screenplay for three years.[14] After Damon read a rough draft of the script, he insisted that Lonergan should direct it and that he would star in it.[14][19] They announced they would collaborate on the project on September 6, 2014,[citation needed] and pre-production began on September 8, 2014.[18] However, Damon would not have a break in his schedule for another year,[14] and in early December 2014, while filming The Finest Hours, Casey Affleck revealed to The Boston Globe that he would replace Damon in the role of Lee Chandler.[20] Damon said he "wouldn't give this role up to anybody but Casey Affleck."[14]

Affleck officially replaced Damon on January 5, 2015.[21] On January 9, Michelle Williams joined the cast as Lee Chandler's wife;[22] Kyle Chandler joined as Affleck's character's older brother on February 24.[23] In April 2015, Lucas Hedges joined the cast of the film.[24] Lonergan has said that Hedges' audition was "special", but that he was unsure of how the young actor would do "because his background is so different [from that of the character]. Ultimately he did a beautiful job."[15] It was later revealed Erica McDermott had also joined the cast.[25]

Gigi Pritzker was set to produce and finance the film through her company Odd Lot Entertainment.[18] However, in March 2015, it was reported that Sierra/Affinity had come aboard to finance the film, and Kimberly Steward would produce and finance through her company K Period Media, Kevin J. Walsh through his company B Story, Chris Moore through CMP, and Damon through his company Pearl Street Films. The film was executive produced by Josh Godfrey, John Krasinski, Declan Baldwin, and Bill Migliore; Pritzker was no longer attached to produce.[26]

Coming from a theater background, Lonergan had the actors do table read-style rehearsals for two weeks before filming.[27]


Principal photography began on March 23, 2015, in the namesake town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.[28] Filming took place elsewhere on the North Shore, at locations in Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Swampscott, Lynn, Middleton, Tewksbury, and Salem.[29][30]


The film had its world premiere on January 23, 2016, at the Sundance Film Festival.[31] Shortly after, Amazon Studios acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film for $10 million, beating Sony Pictures Classics, Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, and Fox Searchlight.[32][33] This was the second largest disclosed purchase at the Sundance Film Festival after The Birth of a Nation at $17.5 million.[34] Roadside Attractions, of which Lionsgate owns 45%, later became co-distributor of the film with Amazon.[35]

The film was screened at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016,[36] the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2016,[37][38] the New York Film Festival on October 1, 2016,[39][40] and the BFI London Film Festival on October 8, 2016.[41] The film was theatrically released on November 18, 2016.[42] The film was made available to stream on Amazon in the US on February 7, 2017,[43] and on Amazon Prime on May 5 of that year.[44]


Box office

Manchester by the Sea grossed $47.7 million in the United States and Canada and $30 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $77.7 million, against a production budget of $8.5 million.[3]

The film began a limited release on November 18, 2016, and grossed $256,498 from four theaters for the weekend, making for a per-theater average of $64,125. It began a wide release on December 16, 2016, opening against Rogue One and Collateral Beauty, and grossed $4.2 million, finishing 6th at the box office.[45]

Critical response

Manchester by the Sea received particular praise for Lonergan's screenplay and direction, as well as the performances of Affleck, Williams and Hedges, with Rolling Stone calling it the "must-see film" of the 2016 Sundance Festival.[14] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 293 reviews, with an average rating of 8.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Manchester by the Sea delivers affecting drama populated by full-bodied characters, marking another strong step forward for writer-director Kenneth Lonergan."[46] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 96 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[47] The film was counted among the best films of 2016.[48]

Giving the film five-out-of-five stars, Phil de Semlyen of Empire called the film "masterfully told and beautifully acted" and favorably compared Affleck's performance to that of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, saying "there’s not much higher praise than that."[49] Variety's Justin Chang said it was a "beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama."[50] Critic Peter Travers said the movie "ranks with the year’s very best films," and that "it takes a piece out of you."[51]'s Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film four-out-of-four stars, stating that it is "the kind of movie you'll want to see a second time with someone who hasn't seen it yet, to remember what it was like to watch it for the first time."[52] Anthony Lane with The New Yorker called the film "carefully constructed, compellingly acted, and often hard to watch."[11] Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt said that "the exquisitely crafted, emotionally ragged Manchester doesn’t just ask for time and effort; it earns it."[53] The film was included on many end-of-year lists, including those of the American Film Institute,[54] Rolling Stone,[55] the BBC,[56] The New York Times,[57] the Los Angeles Times,[58] and The Washington Post.[59]

The scene which drew the most critical praise featured the characters Randi and Lee speaking again years after their divorce. Anthony Lane called it the "highlight" of the movie.[10] Speaking of Williams' performance, Tom Shone said that "if this actress were put on earth to do one thing only, it would be this scene."[17] Zoller called the scene "a duet of mortification and mercy that stacks up with the best of Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies)... The effect is cathartic."[52] Affleck says he strove to show restraint while acting the scene, explaining, "The challenge was to have all of those feelings and hold it without weeping and wailing and gnashing your teeth. To be there, and not be there."[16]


Manchester by the Sea received six nominations at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams) and Best Original Screenplay,[60] winning two for Best Original Screenplay for Lonergan and Best Actor for Affleck. It was the first-ever film released by a digital streaming service to be nominated for Best Picture.[61]

Affleck won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama; the film was nominated for four additional awards at the 74th ceremony: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (for Williams) and Best Screenplay.[62]

Manchester by the Sea received six nominations at the 70th British Academy Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Original Screenplay.[63] Affleck won Best Actor in a Leading Role and Lonergan won Best Original Screenplay.[64]


Lesley Barber was selected to score the film, as she had previously worked on Lonergan's film You Can Count On Me.[65] She developed the first musical themes after reading the script.[66] Once she established the themes, she worked with the orchestra to create a specific sound that represented the sound of the ocean with "underlying tension" — but with lightness — for exterior shots.[65] Barber took inspiration from early New England church music from the 1700s, including Calvinist hymns and other music of the Pilgrims and the Colonial era, with its emphasis on a cappella vocals.[67] Barber also developed the music to complement her understanding of the essence of the film's scenes based on emails and conversations with Lonergan.[65] For example, to score scenes that reflected Lee's "interior landscape," she sent the music to her daughter Jacoba Barber Rozema (an opera major),[66] and then recorded her singing in her dorm room via Skype.[66][67] Barber said the more confined space made for a "perfect sound."[67] Orchestration was added to the track later.[66] For the opening flash-back of Lee in happier times, Barber recorded her daughter's vocals in a large, spacious auditorium.[65] Instead of giving Lonergan demos, Barber provided him with more finished pieces earlier in the editing process to allow the director to have a better sense of the music while editing.[65] The film was cut down after the Sundance screening, requiring Barber to rework and simplify some of the music.[65]

Critic Steven Mears says the film's score "gives form" to the feelings of blue-collar Americans.[12] Bobby Finger with Jezabel called it "an elegant white noise ... a hypnotic soundtrack to focused thought."[68] Caitlin Warren of Spindle Magazine said the score adds perfectly "to the raw emotion of the film without ever overwhelming it to the point of feeling contrived or cheesy."[69] Film score critic Jonathan Broxton said the music "dwells in the bitterness of regret" and that it has "a captivating, dream-like quality that is ... dramatically appropriate for the film it accompanies."[70]

The use of "Adagio in G minor" to accompany the reveal of Lee's tragedy got mixed reviews. The New Yorker said that "any piece of music that has been used for Rollerball, Gallipoli, and Flashdance has, by definition, been squeezed dry."[10] Mark Kermode of the BBC said that the piece "has been overused so much in pop entertainment that when it turns up, it's distracting."[71] On the other hand, Koresky noted that in the montage, "Lonergan thickly lays on the Handel, Bach, and Albinoni, making this sequence almost surreally operatic in its horror."[9] In an interview, Lonergan said he originally used the piece as a stand-in track while editing, but ultimately decided to keep it in.[71] The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled the film's score ineligible for Oscar consideration due to the volume of music from classical composers on the soundtrack. In a statement Barber released to Variety, she said, "While I accept the Academy’s decision, I also support my director's decision to use these pieces and I'm also very proud of the substantial contribution that the original score made to the film as well."[67]


All music is written by Lesley Barber unless otherwise noted. The orchestra was conducted by James Shearman.[70] Jacoba Barber-Rozema, Barber's daughter, provided special vocals.[70] The album was recorded and mixed by XXX, and edited by Mick Gormley.[70] The album was produced by Barber and Stefan Karrer.[70]

No. Title Writer(s) Performer Length
1. "Manchester by the Sea Chorale"   Jacoba Barber Rozema 2:20
2. "Manchester Minimalist Piano and Strings"     2:19
3. "Plymouth Chorale"   Rozema, Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra[72] 1:25
4. "Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)" (from Messiah) George Frederick Handel Musica Sacra Orchestra 3:00
5. "Smoke"     1:53
6. "Floating 149" (A Cappella)   Rozema 1:53
7. "Floating 149" (Strings Reprise)     2:20
8. "Sonata for Oboe & Piano, 1st Movement" Camille Saint-Saëns Gerhard Kanzian and Ed Lewis 2:25
9. "Manchester Minimalist Piano and Strings" (Strings Reprise)     1:04
10. "He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd; Come Unto Him" (from Messiah) Handel Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra 5:11
11. "Manchester Minimalist Piano and Strings" (Variation)     2:19
12. "Adagio per Archi E Organo in Sol Minore" Tomaso Albinoni and Remo Giazotto The London Philharmonic Orchestra 8:34
13. "Smoke Reprise With Bass And Strings"     1:37
14. "I'm Beginning to See the Light" Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James Ella Fitzgerald and The Ink Spots 2:44
15. "Chérubin" Jules Massenet Munich Radio Orchestra with the choir of the Bavarian State Opera 3:01
16. "Manchester By The Sea Strings Reprise"     2:19
Total length: 44:07


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