Whoa!!!!! This movie was incredible. To get the first thing out of the way- I read an article that outlined two women who worked on a project with Casey Affleck and are suing him for sexual harassment cases. I read the article and his treatment of them sounded awful. It’s here if you want to read it. So, that definitely affected me going in because I hate hate hate supporting the work of abusers/bad people. But unfortunately I am not perfect and I do often consume art by people who have done things I think are reprehensible. My cousin invited me to go with him and we haven’t hung out in 15 years so I decided to go.
The movie was incredible. I know I already said that, but then I said some other stuff so I decided to say it again. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a stoic complicated man with pockets of emotional rage that sort of unearth themselves throughout. Normally I don’t like it when male characters express themselves emotionally through mainly hitting things, but it worked for me here. The first scene of the movie is him on a boat with a little kid, (Patty/Patrick) and he and the guy driving the boat (Joe/Lee’s brother/Patty’s father) are joking with the kid about how they’re going to feed him to sharks. It’s very funny.
Men: “You know a school of sharks is going to come up and eat their way through the boat. The only way you can get away is to throw a kid in there to get them off the trail”
Patty: “Sharks don’t even swim in schools”
Men: “Smart kid. You know, an intelligent kid is exactly the kind of balanced meal a shark craves”
And so on. The writing in this movie was very sharp and there were a lot of suddenly funny moments. Slowly, slowly, slowly, all the details of the situation come out. That was one of my favorite parts about this movie- the pacing and the way the story unfolds.
Lee is a maintenance man and a lot of the beginning shots are this montage of him fixing things in people’s houses/interacting with tenants. This one woman comes over while he’s plunging her toilet and she’s like, “I’m sorry this is so gross” then we hear her on the phone with someone asking, “Have you ever had sexual fantasies about your handyman? I have such a crush on mine. Like right now he’s literally cleaning shit out of my toilet but I want to fuck him” then she continues on for a while and hangs up then comes out to pay him being normal and it’s really funny.
We sort of watch Lee as people interact with him and deduce from context clues, something horrible has happened to him and that he is an intense person. Very early on in the film his bother dies. Through flashbacks that are actually more just like cuts juxtaposed in time, we find out that his brother had a congenital heart disease that is common enough in older people, but very rare in young people. But he has it, and it kills him.
A lot of the movie is guess work, figuring out what has happened/changed between the present situation and the scenes they show from the past. Very rarely do they show an incident actually occurring, it’s usually the build up or aftermath of it. In fact, only once do they actually show it and it’s horrifying. I’ll say what it is, but if you’re thinking about seeing this movie AT ALL, go watch it and don’t spoil it for yourself here because it’s amazing in the movie when you don’t know.
But Joe dies (that’s not the thing), and we watch as Lee goes to help out Patrick/figure out the affairs. All the scenes with Patrick (and there are a lot of them) are wonderful. He does such a good job of acting a full teenage emotional scale with subtlety and control. Lee and Patrick have such a cool relationship, they’re honest, and they joke sometimes. At one point Patrick has a panic attack over frozen chicken (we’ve all been there) and Lee just stays with him until he falls asleep, after kicking the door in. It’s that combo of violence and quiet support that’s so winning! Very Boston. Another incredibly Boston thing I appreciated was that everyone curses and no one apologizes for it, even the kid when he’s like eight is calling his Dad and Uncle motherfuckers, because it’s their culture.
Lee also has an ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) and their dynamic is simply heartbreaking. There is one scene between them that makes Blue Valentine look like a light-hearted after school special. I don’t know how much I can say in this review because in looking at the IMDB page I realized that the movie didn’t even have it’s wide release yet, it’s only “select theaters” which means New York and nowhere else. But actually as I’m looking it up more, perhaps it opened on November 18th everywhere and it’s fine. Ok so here’s the big thing that we don’t find out until halfway through the movie (IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT AND YOU WANT TO STOP READING!!!!!!):
One night, Lee goes out for some beers. He has been drinking/smoking/doing coke and walks because he doesn’t want to drive fucked up. It is the middle of winter, and his wife has been getting these really bad sinus infections which the central heat in their house dries out and makes worse. Before leaving he puts some more logs on the fire to keep her and their three kids warm. Halfway to the store he can’t remember if he put the grate on or not. He assumes it’s fine and keeps going. When he comes back, the house is in flames and Michelle Williams is screaming through her restraints “I have three kids in there.” They all die. Later at the police station after he gives his statement, they tell him he can go. “You’re releasing me?” and he’s kind of aghast. Then as soon as he walks out of the interrogation room he grabs a cop’s gun and tries to kill himself. Whoa buddy!!
This whole movie is about loss and how complex it is. Everyone in the movie has lost something in some way and it’s about how often you have to figure out how your personal experiences interact with what other people that you love need from you, and the emotional balance that all takes. Did I cry during the movie? Yes. Am I crying now? Yes.
Michelle Williams was my favorite part, she has such control over her face. She holds it differently in every movie I see her in and the only other person I’ve ever seen do that is Daniel Day-Lewis and he gets so much credit for film transformations and she doesn’t at all. But seriously between Dick, My Week With Marilyn, Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, she holds her face differently in all of them. And I’m glad that she’s blonde in every movie, you tell’em Michelle!
In a hilarious turn of events the actor who plays Joe Chandler (the brother who dies) is Kyle CHANDLER!! (Remember Early Edition?) His real last name is also his fake name in this movie!!! Crazy. We didn’t get popcorn which was probably for the best because it would have felt bad to be eating popcorn while watching someone’s kids burn to death. The seats were red leather (well, probably not but close enough) and they reclined ALL THE WAY so I watched this movie LAYING DOWN in public and that was cool to me.
The kid was kind of a piece of shit? But loveable and sympathetic too. Mostly I say piece of shit because he had two girlfriends and seemingly just wanted to fuck them and didn’t care about their emotional well-being, and he keeps lamenting that one of his girlfriend’s mom’s always checks on them every few minutes so they can’t have sex easily while they’re lying to her and Lee lets them be in his house alone while he runs errands and they exchange this smile that makes it seem like Lee is giving her sex as a gift to Patrick which is creepy and gross.
OH MY GOD something I almost completely forgot- MATTHEW BRODERICK comes out of NOWHERE like 2/3rds of the way through the movie and is Patrick’s alcoholic turned clean mom’s Christian boyfriend who is kind of a controlling asshole and ends up emailing Patrick saying he should contact his mom through him. But it was so shocking to see him, all the older people in the theatre (everyone was older than us in the theatre) audibly commented/gasped. It was so funny to witness. And he’s wearing this blue pullover cardigan sweater thing and it’s really hard for me to imagine him and Sarah Jessica Parker having sex and I know no one asked me to but I try anyway.
The runtime of this movie was 2 hours and 17 minutes and when I heard that I was like, “Oh brother” but when you’re in there it’s actually perfect because they don’t rush through anything or have anything set to music as time passes. Things just happen and it takes two hours to deal with them and that was great. Also the ending is good because it’s an unfinished compromise which is the realest/best thing anything can be. IMDB is telling me that one of the girlfriends (Kara Hayward) is Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom. You’re welcome!
Only two complaints that a lot of white men are going to roll their eyes at (I bet they are already rolling them because I called them that!!!) but: lots of the women weren’t interesting or important or unique. They just kind of seemed like props for the men to act out stuff on/to AND I think there was one (MAYBE two) black people in this movie? One asian. LOTS of white people, lotssss of men. I think men get annoyed when you point that stuff out, because they’re like, “Why does that matter???” but it’s annoying to constantly always be identifying with men and giving them emotional allowances/hear their stories when they won’t/don’t do the same in return. Like if this movie was made and everything was the fucking same, same writing, same setting, same production value, same direction, but the main character was a black woman, half the men who are going to see it and think it’s “brilliant” (which it is) wouldn’t see or care about it and that’s annoying!
I can’t think of more to say. My thoughts are kind of scattered, I know I’ll remember more parts in time and I’ll come back to add any persisting thoughts I have. Overall really, really incredible. Casey Affleck is an emotional tour de force and will get a lot of acclaim for this role probably. Michelle Williams is a blonde gem and no one deserves her. The director, Kenneth Lonergan, gave himself a cameo in this movie just like Alfred Hitchcock and I like that!
5 out of 5 boat motors, would absolutely masturbate again.