All my movie-loving friends told me that I must watch Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester-by-the-Sea (2016). That was before the film won all those awards. So I crashed the Netflix line and there it was in my mailbox the first day that it was released on disk. And indeed it's a fine film. No car chases, no special effects, just real people wrestling their way through his world of woe. Good dialogue. Excellent camera work, excellent editing, splendid acting.
But half way through the film, I began to experience disappointment. An unavoidable sense of dejavuitude. Wait, haven't I seen this before? And then I remembered Lonergan's earlier film, You Can Count on Me (2000). Hmmm.
In YCCoM, 20ish small-town boy Terry Prescott is unsteady and unfocused because he has lost his parents in an automobile accident. in MbtS, 30ish small-town boy Lee Chandler is sullen and isolated because he has lost his children in a house fire. In YCCoM, Lee Chandler has a nephew, son of his steady brother, with whom he tries to connect. In MbtS, Terry Prescott has a nephew, son of his much more grounded sister, with whom he tries to connect. In YCCoM, Terry Prescott gets into a fight with a guy he used to know very well. In MbtS, Lee Chandler gets into a bar fight with a guy he's never met. In YCCoM, Terry Prescott can't stay put, has to be on the road; in MbtS, Lee Chandler is stuck at home, can't get out of his rut.
The details are different, but it's unquestionably the same story, inverted. It can almost be thought of as a sequel, with Casey Afflect recapitulating the role created by Mark Ruffalo.
They're both excellent films -- just a trifle redundant. As a would-be enthusiast of the later effort, I felt just a little cheated.
All writers, even the best, repeat themselves. Nevertheless, I'm hoping that Kenneth Lonergan's next picture, to which I'm looking forward with great anticipation, breaks out of the box, tries something entirely new.