MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: Anyone who’s experienced the grieving process after the death of a loved one can attest to the fact that unexpected humor can surface during these times of loss. Shakespeare referred to it as comic relief and real-life is like that. These moments of levity occasionally emerge in an otherwise melancholy account of an anti-social Boston area handyman (Casey Affleck) thrust with the guardianship of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the death of his older brother (Kyle Chandler). The elder sibling’s demise from heart failure parallels Affleck’s (GONE BABY GONE) constant hangdog countenance that seems to be mourning some unspoken loss that he can only express by lashing out in bar fights. Director/writer Kenneth Lonergan’s (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME) screenplay never dodges the raw emotions of the characters or settles for the conventional resolution normally found in a typical Hollywood movie. The cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes is appropriately bleak as the title setting always appears to be cloaked with a dominant gray appearance. Like a well-played baseball game, the story proceeds at its own leisurely pace without ever losing any of its momentum. Affleck is positively unforgettable in a performance that’s as haunting as it is insightful with more than adequate support from Hedges (MOONRISE KINGDOM), Gretchen Mol (3:10 TO YUMA) and the underrated Michelle Williams (BLUE VALENTINE) who owns every scene she’s in. This is a challenging work by virtue of it being about so many different things. Mostly it’s a film that explores forgiveness of others and one’s self after unspeakable tragedy and how people come to terms with their grief. To say anymore would reveal too much about a movie that’s well worth the emotional effort it takes to watch the people in it work through their loss to attain a sort of redemption. CRITIC’S GRADE: A-

DOUBLE FEATURE: Adapted from August Wilson’s Tony Award-winning stage production, FENCES doesn’t always make a seamless transition to the wider range medium of film. But it’s buoyed by compelling performances from Denzel Washington (FLIGHT), who also directs, as a garbage collector embittered by past injustices in his life and Viola Davis (THE HELP) as his long-suffering but quietly forceful wife. Since Wilson wrote the screenplay, the drama is fundamentally unchanged so it still packs an emotional wallop. CRITIC’S GRADE: B