In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see what they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Scout Tafoya makes the case for the Best Original Screenplay of 2016: "Manchester by the Sea" Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choices for Best Director and Best Picture on Friday.
It's not simply that "Manchester by the Sea" is so devastating you'll want to hug whoever may be next to you in the theatre when the credits roll, but that it orchestrates its tempestuous crescendos in between the most screamingly funny dialogue you've ever heard. And it does all that without making the contrapuntal relationship between its tonal registers seem like the point of this still gentle exercise.
Kenneth Lonergan knows we suffer enough in our lives and at the movies without making his audience pay for his desire to see grief and loss treated realistically. The laughs come because they would. Unfortunate accidents pile up, people misunderstand the easiest sentiments, cell phone service is interrupted during tough phone calls, wheels on a gurney don't always cooperate, and people say funny things when backed into corners. These things happen and "Manchester by the Sea"'s deeply intelligent script lets them appear and disappear without so much as a backward glance.
This is most purely a film about people missing the one thing they need in any given situation. The days of having enough beer and the right touch with his kids is over for broken Lee Chandler. He doesn't have the family he once relied on, the fortitude to deal with his needy nephew, the resilience to overcome tragedy; he doesn't even have the garage door opener. This neo-weepie takes it all from him and watches him try to swim through rough seas. The script arms him only with his sense of humor and the solidity granted to anyone who knows that life can always get worse. The surreality of the tragedy he deals with always seems like one more thing on life's long and arduous to-do list. Lonergan's beautifully busy writing keeps us hooked through every new addition.