Dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy turns a once warm and ebullientfamily man into a solemn, withdrawn, and angry loner in KennethLonergan's ("Margaret") bittersweet drama Manchester by the Sea, one ofthe best films of 2016. Set in the picturesque city of Manchester onMassachusetts' north shore, cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes ("MarthaMarcy May Marlene") captures the rugged beauty of the New England townwith its bays filled with trawlers and its winter streets and municipalbuildings covered in a shimmering white. It is a town that looks as ifit has not changed in decades, or even centuries.<br><br>Lee Chandler, in a haunting performance by Casey Affleck("Interstellar"), is a janitor/handyman who spends his days painting,doing minor plumbing work, repairing leaks, and so on or just givingadvice while making sure to avoid any social interaction with thepeople he is working for. His nights are spent drinking alone in barswhere he is quick to start fights or at home watching TV in his smallapartment. There is no hint during the film's first half hour aboutwhat has brought him to his present state of disequilibrium, but in hismumbling inability to express his thoughts, we know that somethingunspoken is driving his need for isolation.<br><br>Lee has been living in nearby Quincy but, when his older brother, Joe(Kyle Chandler, "Carol") succumbs to a heart attack, he has to returnto Manchester to make funeral arrangements and attend the reading ofthe will and to confront the people that he has turned away from. Hisgrief over his brother's death turns to shock, however, when hediscovers that he has been named the legal guardian of Joe's16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), apopular high school student. Since Patrick's mom Elise (Gretchen Mol,"Anesthesia") is an alcoholic who left town long ago, Lee is the onlyperson who can assume the task.<br><br>It is one, however, that he does not feel ready for. Eventually, theseminal event that changed Lee's life forever is revealed, depicted ina straightforward manner without histrionics or pandering, even if theoverused baroque music tends to amplify the drama beyond what isrequired. In flashback, we see that Lee was once a happy family manwith a loving wife Randi (Michelle Williams, "Suite Française") andthree young children and we see him joking around with his young nephewPatrick (Ben O'Brien) on their fishing boat. Assuming theresponsibility of being a father-figure to Patrick, we glimpse the manthat Lee used to be.<br><br>The dialogue between the abrasive Lee and the feisty, sharp-tonguedPatrick feels real and without guile but channeling the chemistry theyhave together into rebuilding his life is a challenge. Manchester bythe Sea is a serious film but is balanced by humor. In one such scene,Patrick awkwardly attempts to hide the obvious from his mom aboutstudying in his room with his girlfriend. Another funny incident takesplace when Lee is used as a cover for Patrick's surreptitious jugglingof his two girlfriends. The issues between them take a more serioustone, however, when Lee is convinced that he and Patrick should move toBoston, a suggestion that Patrick rebels at, citing his high schoolgirlfriends, his being on the soccer team, and his playing in theschool band.<br><br>Though Michelle Williams has a small role, she turns in one of her bestperformances. In a powerful confrontation with Lee, it is clear thatshe still loves him but has felt compelled to suppress it in order tobury the past and move on. Manchester by the Sea belongs to CaseyAffleck, however, who turns in what is arguably the best performance ofhis career. The film does not have the sort of neat resolution that youmay have come to expect but what it does have are real people whoselives you want to be a part of and you know that that world is not onethat can only happen in the movies, but a real experience of life fullylived in all its pain and all its joy.