Sad Man and the Sea
By Wesley Rossenrode
With the 89th Academy Awards just a few days away, movie junkies around this Great Nation cautiously wager their hard earned Theater Club points on which film will take home the coveted Oscar. Naturally, most heart attacks will be induced choosing among the nominees for best picture. And this year’s list is a doozy. The nominees are: the true story of a narcoleptic Indian boy who misses his train stop and ends up in Australia; a movie about a pacifist that enlists in war, directed by a man that made the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into a slasher film; a former stage play about an emotionally abusive, self-centered father that somehow made me like it by reminding me of my own father; a movie where scientists try to communicate with space aliens that left its audience wondering what the hell happened; and a film about three nerds breaking the boundaries of racism and sexism, which actually showed an old white guy physically breaking a boundary of racial segregation. There are others, but I forget what they are. It doesn’t matter, trust me, and take this as a tip from one compulsive gambler to another with precious little left to lose. This short list is all you have to consider because there is one nominee that’s shaping up to be the trump of the Oscars.
Questionable Oscar nominees for best picture are nothing new (Avatar, 2009). What’s most puzzling about this year is the universal praise for Manchester by the Sea, a lumbering elephant of depression that understands grief as well as Hacksaw Ridge understands the difference between the horrors of war and gut spewing video game violence. I consider myself a pretty good Googler and everybody and their mother is giving their critique on the best picture nominees, but I was hard pressed find a negative review of Manchester by the Sea. Were we invaded by body snatchers? Did I not see the same movie?
Manchester by the Sea is a film that centers on an alcoholic guilt-ridden by the last bad thing he did while inebriated. The movie starts with our main character, Lee Chandler (played by a thorny piece of wood, played by Casey Affleck) working a crappy job as a handyman, a job he finds hard to do while suppressing his violent tendencies. We are quickly rescued by how this will ultimately turn out for our flawed friend (probably a two-hour film about the unemployment process in Boston, or possibly a thriller where murdered tenants in an apartment building are being investigated by Morgan Freeman. In other words, a movie we’d actually want to see). He receives news that his older brother has died. Then it’s off to AffleckLand, Massachusetts where our guy learns he has unwillingly gained a teenage son. This is where it gets good, briefly. The teenage son, Patrick Chandler, is played by young actor Lucas Hedges and his performance is the only portrayal of life the movie possesses. While Lee/Affelck shuffles around his old picturesque Manchester trying to figure out how a human should act, Patrick/Hedges tugs at the heartstrings, portraying how the young process death and the changes that come by it. Back to the thorny piece of wood –We start to learn what causes him to roundhouse bar patrons, threaten his employer, frighten the locals, moodily sulk, and not develop at all thus far into the story. Through a series of flashbacks (because using flashbacks to tell a story where nothing is happening is the best way to tell a story), we learn his three young children died when the house caught fire by a wandering log in the fireplace. A log that would have been it its right place if it weren’t for Lee’s hankering for another tall can of Natty Ice. The rest of the film is Lee/Affleck muttering and punching and not acting. There is one more scene that entertains but it’s for reasons I don’t think the movie-makers intended. It’s a scene where Lee and the ex-wife/mother of Lee’s dead kids meet in an alleyway. I should have been sobbing by this point in the movie; instead I was reminded of an SNL sketch where Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch play a couple of Boston teens. The movie ends with him beating up an innocent person at a bar then palming of his orphan nephew to a minor side character, a character that already once awkwardly refused. Lee returns to his crappy job in Boston, having learned nothing and changed not at all. Bravo! Standing Ovation!
Critics are calling Affleck’s acting in this film magnificent, unforced; what I saw was someone kicking rocks. You want to see a great performance, check out Denzel’s in Fences, also nominated for best actor and best picture. Actually, better yet, check Viola Davis in Fences, that’s acting. She should have been nominated lead actress instead of supporting, but that’s a rant for another article. Still, if she doesn’t take home the Oscar I promise I will go out and buy an Oscar piñata, fill it full of expensive candy, tie it to the highest limb of the mightiest tree and set it on fire.
Now, if Manchester by the Sea wins best picture, Oscars, I guess I’ll just have to stop watching and go back to betting on the ponies.