Gretchen Mol - Portrait - LEAD 2
Credit: Mark Lim

Ever since it first premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Manchester by the Sea has been getting a ton of buzz. The drama—which hits select theaters today, Nov. 18—stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a Boston-based janitor who, after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), suddenly finds himself named guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Leaving his life in Boston behind, Affleck’s character returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to raise the teen—despite the fact that Patrick’s mom, Elise, played by Gretchen Mol, is still very much alive.

“My character is pretty much a negligent mother,” Mol recently told InStyle during a visit to our New York City offices. “She's just one of those people who's not capable of seeing outside of her own bubble, in a way. She’s kind of an alcoholic and just simply non-functioning, so even though she’s still alive, her son can’t live with her—even though he just lost his father.”

As the story progresses, Manchester by the Sea dives deep into the lives of its characters. “Kenneth Lonergan is such a beautiful storyteller and filmmaker, and he manages to tell this tale of real loss without ever being sentimental,” said Mol. “It really lends a beauty to that thing of living, and the universal thing of loss, that you don’t see a lot in movies. We all have to grieve at some point for different reasons, and it was nice to get in touch with that. It makes you feel grateful to be alive, and it’s very deep and moving—but it’s also celebratory of just being human, in many ways.”

Although the film packs plenty of emotion, there are a few lighter moments throughout. “The lovely thing about Kenny is that while he's telling this story, he's also able to infuse it with a kind of humor,” said Mol. “So you can see these people and have a laugh—and you almost feel like you've seen them before.”

For Mol, working on the project was unforgettable. “I have a very small part, so I didn’t have many days on the set, but it was just beautiful,” she said of filming in New England. “Really, I’m just so proud to be in it. That’s why you get involved in doing something in the first place, to move people and have some kind of impact. And for me, there was no question that this one does.”

Check out the above trailer for Manchester by the Sea, and catch the film in limited theaters today.