MEASURE OF A MAN (2018)
Starring Blake Cooper, Donald Sutherland, Judy Greer, Luke Wilson, Liana Liberato, Danielle Rose Russell, Luke Benward, Sam Keeley, Beau Knapp, Lexie Roth, Kristen Annese, Peter Harris, Haley Pine, Ryan Boudreau, Brian Faherty, John J. Burke, Jessica Kent, Joseph Bianchi-Coppola, Joanna Herrington, Rosario Corso, Connor Holden and Colleen McGovern.
Screenplay by David Scearse.
Directed by Jim Loach.
Distributed by Great Point Media. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Growing up is always a dramatic, awkward time, which is probably why coming-of-age films are such a standard in filmmaking. Measure of a Man is one of the better ones to come out in a while, a bittersweet and charming look at a suburban teen coming to terms with such huge issues as love, friendship, working, bullying and his place in the world.
Taking place entirely in a small lake town on northern New York during the summer of 1976, Measure of a Man is based on the memoir One Fat Summer by acclaimed sports journalist Robert Lipsyte. (The era has been changed, the book took place in the 1950s.) It looks back at his childhood, when his family would spend every summer going to a house at Rumson Lake in the woods.
This family ritual has long since lost its romance to the kids, fourteen-year-old Bobby (Blake Cooper) and older sister Michelle (Liana Liberato), but it is something their parents (Judy Greer and Luke Wilson) look forward to all year. However, this summer – which will end up being their last summer in the house, though they do not realize it until late in the film – seems to be particularly drab for Bobby.
Bobby is played by teen actor Cooper – who is best remembered as the ill-fated Chuck in the first Maze Runner film – and he easily captures the boredom and pathos of being fourteen. It’s a smart and nuanced performance that is completely relatable to anyone who has ever been a teen: a mix of intellect, insecurity and a quick wit.
From day one, the vacation is nothing but bad for Bobby. First of all, his life-long best (female) friend Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell) has to go back into home for the first month of vacation. Bobby does not want to go to camp, which his parents expect him to do. He doesn’t have any friends. He’s a little shy and insecure because he is overweight. He instinctively dislikes his sister’s new summer boyfriend (Luke Benward), even though the guy is honestly pretty nice to him, just because he good-looking and secure in his own skin.
There is also some tension going on between the parents. Mom has discovered Women’s Lib and is trying to find her place in the world as a woman, though she is still doting as a mother. Dad is mysteriously spending more and more time in the city “for work” and Bobby is concerned their parents may be breaking up.
And Bobby is being massively bullied by older local townie Willie Rumson (Beau Knapp), a descendant of the family for whom the lake is named, but who is now just a loser who has bounced around the military and jail and who openly disdains the summer tourists who visit.
Bobby decides to get a job rather than go to camp and ends up tending the massive estate of Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland). It’s backbreaking work (at a princely $2.00 an hour) and Bobby is totally over his head, but as he learns the value of hard work and befriends the prickly doctor, he finally learns to stand up for himself.
Measure of a Man does mostly capture the feeling of the summer of 1976 – the styles, the music (though some of these classic songs are more recent covers by the original artists), the cars, the slang, the hairstyles (mostly, though there should have been more feathering), the long-forgotten brands. There is even only one actor in the cast who has a (visible) tattoo, and his character is a former Marine, so that makes sense.
However, there was one slight omission that I feel must be pointed out. Okay, I’m dating myself here, but I was the age of the character of Bobby in the summer of 1976. I did a massive amount of traveling all over the country that year, including living in two different cities. Frankly, that summer was all about the US Bicentennial celebration – patriotic decorations, red white & blue t-shirts, flags, parades, statues, historical reenactments. None of those appear in Measure of a Man, in fact I don’t remember the Bicentennial being mentioned once by any character in the film, though Bobby is briefly shown watching a TV clip about the Bicentennial at one point when he gets called to dinner.
However, the time period itself is only part of the story – this could be happening to pretty much any teen at any time.
The direction by Jim Loach (son of acclaimed British director Ken Loach) is smart and subtle, capturing the dewy nostalgia of the situation, but also grounding it in a clear-eyed understanding of past mistakes and triumphs. In fact, the film often feels a lot like the old TV series The Wonder Years, which is high praise indeed.
Not insanely much happens in Measure of a Man as far as plot and action go, just a boy turning into a man. So, pretty much everything.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 11, 2018.