Wednesday, 18 January 2017

REVIEW - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (KENNETH LONERGAN)


Mountains out of molehills in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, and molehills out of mountains in exchange. Lonergan the writer knows no gear besides full throttle, while Lonergan the director knows no gear at all. Layers of emotional depth are revealed not only in his dialogue but in Jennifer Lame's fiddly editing, shuffling through past and present to poignant, disorientating effect. Grief is visited and revisited, and endless circles of pain prove to have no easy route out. After all, the route in was anything but easy. In the intended verisimilitude of Lonergan's mise-en-scene, there's tremendous force to be found when these layers build up to breaking point, and for all its attempted minimalism, Manchester by the Sea is at its most powerful when it relies upon power itself - that of the writer-director, and that of his most capable ensemble. Yet that verisimilitude is ill-constructed, with self-aware dialogue that undoubtedly looked better on the page than it sounds on the screen undermining these attempts toward realism. Lonergan's methods and motifs are too obviously placed to fit naturally into the film's milieu; one always senses the cogs of his mind whirring away, yet rarely senses the grip of his hand guiding the film anywhere other than back to the script at all costs. And Lame's editing, though it serves one good purpose, is intrusive in its efforts to contribute a feeling of lightheartedness - a feeling for which Lonergan has already accounted, his screenplay at its best when it's at its saltiest. No wonder this windswept coastal town is populated by Hollywood's hottest, since these are characters on which to chew and chew. Lonergan the writer serves them well; in flat compositions, and accompanied by a horrible soundtrack, Lonergan the director very nearly negates all of his, and their good work.