Parents' Guide to

Manchester by the Sea

By S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Searing, insightful drama has intense themes, swearing.

Movie R 2016 137 minutes
Manchester by the Sea Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 17+

Based on 18 parent reviews

age 17+

A Study of Realism and Unfinished Grief

Kenneth Lonergan’s 2016 film Manchester by the Sea offers a poignant study on the multifaceted effects of mourning and death. At the time of its release, this film was critically acclaimed as one of the best films of the decade. This film follows a more traditional form of realism throughout, as Lonergan instills upon the audience a sense of organic rawness in emotion and timing, interestingly choosing to pull back in key moments of the plot that would normally evoke the greatest swell of emotion within the characters and soundscore. Realistic to real life grieving, the breakdown moments and crises of characters occur in the awkward, unexpected, and improperly timed occasions of daily life. What stems forth in this technique is an interesting dichotomy - the coexistence of two opposite states. These states are altogether emotional numbness, and an overwhelming abundance of emotion. Main character Lee survives between these two states throughout the course of the film, most often numb to the people and previous life he has lost, while still being given small glimpses into the moments emotions do take over for him. Much discussion has developed over this movie since its release, some arguing that it is simply too bleak for them to muster any true inspiration or meaning out of. Others revere its adherence to realism, and the ways in which it authentically portrays not merely human grief, but also human love, and the healing that comes through the passage of time. I would argue for the latter as well, in that the austere nature of this movie actually directs one closer to the existential questions of where one is going when this life is over. It poses the questions of what there is to live for, outside of the peak moments of life, outside of the comfort and guises of a futile state of “happiness”. For that reason, I find this movie to be extremely important, as it does not shy away from a reality that suffuses all of our lives at some point. Life, in spite of suffering, still holds an inherent dignity to it. The closing scene of this movie offers this exact message, a glimmer of hope and restoration. For this reason, I believe realism and organic expression is fundamental in the form of film. Otherwise, we see a trend of over idealizing the passing things of this life take shape, and pervade the film industry, and all other forms of media. This film does a fantastic job of counteracting this, and I hope to see more films to this creative caliber in the future.
age 16+

The Best Movie I've Seen in Years

It's a beautiful performance of a poignant yet realistic story. Wrapped under that cold and detached appearance is a broken heart being punished for his deadly mistake.

This title has:

Too much sex

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (18):
Kids say (10):

Kenneth Lonergan's searing drama about grief, family, and acceptance is made even more powerful by its deep well of empathy and its unforgettable performances, particularly Affleck's. Manchester by the Sea treads a path we've seen at the movies before -- the mourning after a loss and how that loss affects everyone left behind -- it but does so with stunning compassion. The film's lack of artifice in mining its tough subject matter sets it apart, as does the way it balances all sorts of emotions, including humor in the darkest of days, to create a real sense of humanity. (Lonergan has always been wonderful at this.)

Even more impressive is how the movie reveals an even deeper layer of grief beneath the one we're first presented with, one that will leave viewers broken-hearted, just like its leads. If there's a flaw in Manchester, it's that in the end, we still only have a slippery sense of who Lee is and what he will become. (Also somewhat unsatisfying is how it handles the character of Patrick's mother.) But if you see the film with any bit of unexpressed sorrow hiding inside you, don't expect to leave the theater unscathed: It could break you.

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