Throwback Thursday: “Moana” and “Manchester by the Sea” Reviews

Courtesy of Disney Pictures
Courtesy of Disney Pictures

Any movie that treats us to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson singing is a-okay in my book.

Moana is very reminiscent of another 2016 animated film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Both films feature a young, POC prodigal going on an extraordinary journey, guided by a mystical creature, in order to save their home. The main differences (other than animation style) are that Moana‘s plot seems to follow a coherent structure, and the POC characters in Moana are actually voiced by POC actors…

A Disney musical in the style of 2013’s FrozenMoana is simultaneously a much more engaging film, yet much less likely to permeate the popular culture as its predecessor. There are various reasons for this: A lack of snow in a Holiday film, a culture of white supremacy and fewer songs that can be easily sung by children (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics may be cause for this, though he may draw the Hamilton crowd in). However, the journey in Moana is much more fulfilling because the characters have more agency in their actions (and this is despite an anthropomorphic body of water that acts as a consistent Deus Ex Machina).

While the story is a simple adaptation of the “Save the Cat” structure, the script is tight and filled with numerous wonderful moments. Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson are perfectly charismatic in their vocal performances, and the animation is gorgeous (as is to be expected). Moana isn’t reinventing the coconut, but the final result is a high-quality film.

Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Between The Spectacular NowThe Wolf of Wall Street and Carola 15-minute Kyle Chandler cameo seems to be a solid indicator of a good movie. 

Chandler’s role in Manchester by the Sea is that of Joe Chandler (the last name is a coincidence, I think?), who dies of a cardiac arrest early in the film. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is brought in from Boston to take care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). However, Lee’s troubled past in Manchester makes it difficult for him to live there.

At its core, Manchester by the Sea is a story about trauma and guilt. And that’s what makes the casting of Casey Affleck all the more problematic. In 2010, two separate women filed sexual assault lawsuits against Affleck during the production of the mockumentary I’m Not There. Why this has not disintegrated his Oscar hopes while Nate Parker’s are out the window is an exercise in white privilege, the implication of Affleck’s casting certainly overshadows the rest of the film. Because Manchester by the Sea focuses on Lee’s trauma surrounding a disastrous mistake, the film observes his triggers while empathising with him, despite his emotional stuntedness. However, this is some cognitive dissonance while watching an actor who has caused trauma while still living a life of personal and professional luxury.

Still, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s film is marvellously constructed, revelling in awkward silence. Lucas Hedges gives a breakout performance and Michelle Williams steals the movie in a single scene. The gorgeous soundtrack sometimes gets in the way, and occasionally the movie’s low budget reveals itself, but Manchester by the Sea is an impressive feat. While it is by no means an easy watch, there is tremendous payoff in the form of catharsis by the end.

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