These two paired bits add little to Patrick’s character beyond 1) reminding us he is just a teenager and 2) showing us one of the things that binds him to his titular town. The latter is important because his uncle Lee may move him out of it.
Unfortunately, the terribleness of the band makes Patrick less interesting, not more, and makes this particular bond to his hometown flimsy. I’m not asking for Jack Nicholson suddenly playing a busted piano like a virtuoso minutes after clocking out of the oil-rig in Five Easy Pieces, but some nuance or passion or depth of character would have been nice. If I am supposed to spend over two hours giving a shit about a guy, please make him interesting. Beyond the death of his father, the boy possesses little to excite our sympathies. I mean, he’s one of those dudes juggling two girlfriends once. Nuts to him.
The direction is about as artless as the band. Scenes are not framed for beauty or sublimity, but for crude functionality. Time and again the camera is placed in the good-enough position while people don’t do much. Manchester-by-the-Sea is just not an interesting move-ie, as in a thing that moves upon a screen. (Though I suppose Manchester-by-the-Sea, the town itself, is pretty.)
Of course, just as I am not expecting or demanding a Five Easy Pieces talent-reveal, I am also not expecting minutes-long steady-cam tricks in a deliberately languid and mournful film like this one. But I want something. Nebraska, to compare again, is sad and slow, but the stark, bleak Midwestern plains in that movie become far more of a character than the namesake town in this one. Payne pulls it off by making Nebraska, the state, interesting to watch both inside and outside.
Lonergan, like that hapless Stentorian drummer, plays too slow. Almost every time the main characters go somewhere we get shots of a car pulling out of its parking spot, driving down the street, pulling up to a destination, and then parking again. It’s like he did not trust the already slow pace of his movie and added all kinds of unnecessary quotidian moments to convey “sad/dreary.”
All these otherwise minor technical complaints become glaring problems because the heart of this film is a deeply sad, disturbing tragedy. The bargain to watch such bleakness should include a beautifully constructed world; the world need not be beautiful, that is, but the construction of it should be. The tragedy scene itself offers one of Lonergan’s few attempts at artfulness, and it is manipulative and gratuitous. Most directors would have taken a less-is-more approach here, but Lonergan, for once in this movie of small brush strokes and subtle character ticks, opts for way, way more. It pissed me off.
Other movies are more boring, and I guess I was interested in what happened to the characters. Other movies are more manipulative than this one. Casey Affleck is good. I never noticed a boom mike entering the top of the frame, and no one accidentally called Michelle Williams’s character “Michelle.” 'You gotta focus on the positive' is not the point of this movie, but that’s what I’ll take from it. Manchester-by-the-Sea is, as I said, pretty. I’d like to visit some day.