By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
In considering the vast filmography of the world, coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen. Still, relevance and resonance will always keep audiences tuned in. Great writing, direction and acting will keep people interested for many generations to come, though. Those key elements are what make movies legendary. Now, I am not completely sure how legendary Measure of a Man will become in the future. However, it does have those key traits which make it worthy of much love.
Blake Cooper stars as Bobby Marks, an overweight and socially awkward teenager who prefers to remain mostly hidden, away from the painful ridicule of his peers. In the 1970s, Bobby and his family spend several summers at a lake resort town where Bobby’s only friend is another outsider named Joanie Williams (Danielle Rose Russell). One particular summer, Bobby is disappointed to find out that Joanie will be spending most of the break away from the resort. Without any definite plans to pass the time, Bobby, though inexperienced, takes a landscaping job for a stern older gentleman named Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland). During his summer vacation, the young man learns some valuable life lessons while dealing with his familial troubles and in dealing with some hateful bullies who torment him regularly.
Based on the novel One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte, screenwriter David Scearce and director Jim Loach have made a lovable and uplifting film with Measure of a Man. Though the themes and beats are very familiar, the film’s solid screenplay, Loach’s directorial choices and the superb cast give this film its own identity and heart. It really is a crowdpleaser of an indie film, but one that shows restraint and sublety. The filmmakers never insult the audience with overly sacharine triumphs or slap them in their faces with the story’s messages In fact, the film never offers any easy answers to life’s problems, but allows the empathetic protagonist to naturally deal with his conflicts accordingly and credibly.
Actor Blake Cooper gives a perfectly nuanced and understated performance as Bobby Marks. His character never goes out of his way to earn the audience’s love, but his genuine heart and inner turmoil make him relatable and ultimately charming. Cooper channels all of the appropriate emotions and pain perfectly but with the precise execution of an intelligent introvert who mostly hates social interactions. Donald Sutherland is perfectly cast as the wise, but strict sage Dr. Kahn. Sutherland portrays the elder as a pragmatic, but caring employer who sees Bobby’s potential and is willing to give him the opportunity to prove himself. The movie also features great turns by Judy Greer, Liana Liberato, Beau Knapp, Luke Benward, Luke Wilson and Danielle Rose Russell.
Because I have never read the novel on which this film is based, I cannot honestly say how well Loach and Scearce adapted this film. Still, I can guarantee that they have made an impressive and lovable contribution to the many coming-of-age movies out there. It isn’t necessarily a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, but like its protagonist, it has a natural charm that deserves much love from those willing to give it a chance.