Opening June 13, 2019
Directed by: Jim Loach
Writing credits: David Scearce (screenplay), based on the novel by Robert Lipsyte
Principal actors: Blake Cooper, Donald Sutherland, Judy Greer, Beau Knapp, Danielle Rose Russell, Liana Liberato
If you’ve ever seen a coming-of-age movie, one about that special summer when a teenager learns powerful lessons about character or how to love themselves or to forgive their flawed families, well, then you know what’s in store with Measure of a Man. It’s 1976, and while America is celebrating its bicentennial, Bobby Marks (Cooper) is preparing to leave “the city” (New York, one presumes as there’s a lot of guesswork involved in this vague snapshot of a film), for his family’s lake cottage. But rather than looking forward to summer vacation, Bobby’s dreading it because he’s fat, which makes him the object of mockery with his peer group and elicits predictably hurtful comments from his family about his eating habits.
But this summer – oh yes, this one special summer – while Bobby’s father is absent, his mother is preoccupied, and his sister is busy flirting, Bobby gets a summer job. Of course it entails good old American hard work – how else will Bobby learn a “valuable” lesson? – and brings him into contact with both an older “outsider” mentor figure, and a one-dimensional “townie” bully. Does Bobby persevere? You betcha! Does his boss, an older doctor (Sutherland), help him learn valuable lessons about self-worth and the distinction between justice and revenge? Absolutely! Does the bully (Knapp) turn out to have his own source of shame and “otherness” that surely causes him to act the way he does? 100 %! Is each point along this movie’s plotline predictable, thinly sketched out, stereotypical, and underwhelming? Yes, yes, yes, and yes! But wait, there’s more: the movie deprives us of almost any background information, while occasionally doling out important-seeming details that are never further explored.
If it’s not clear yet, I think it’s safe to skip Measure of a Man, which retreads old ground without adding anything new to the coming-of-age genre, and offers mostly flat performances and clichéd, pat depictions of different kinds of suffering. I’m not surprised it took a year for this movie to make it from film screens in the US to Germany, and I’d be surprised if this made any impact on an international audience. (Diana Perry S.)