To call “Measure of a Man” a coming-of-age story is partially true, but it is much more than that. Blake Cooper’s appealing performance as the overweight 14-year-old Bobby Marks becomes a stand-in for all youngsters who have trouble finding and asserting themselves. It also involves tension between locals and summer vacationers, and when you add the performance by Donald Sutherland as one who recognizes Bobby as someone promising who needs nurturing with tough love, you get a film with a special dimension.
“Measure of a Man” has been scripted by David Scearse based on Robert Lipsyte’s novel “One Fat Summer.” It has been ably directed by Jim Loach, who, it is interesting to note, is the son of noted director Ken Loach.
Bobby is the victim of bullying, something he will have to overcome during the summer of 1976 when he vacations with his parents at a lake. Danielle Rose Russell gives a winsome performance as Joanie Williams, with whom Bobby bonds as a friend and for whom he also harbors romantic thoughts. The two communicate with walkie-talkies when they are not seeing each other in person.
There is marital trouble for Bobby’s parents. Bobby’s teenage older sister is feeling her sexuality, and she is attracted to a local lothario. As for Bobby, he wants a job and applies to be a handyman on the property of Dr. Kahn (Sutherland) even though he has no skill at lawn-cutting and the like. He is about to give up when first rejected, and Dr. Kahn berates him for being willing to bow out that easily. He hires the lad for a pittance, and Bobby learns to toil away, even in the face of resentment by a local whom he replaces.
The relationship that Bobby develops with his tough-minded but inwardly kind employer is a gem, and as we watch Bobby’s development, the film takes on warmth while also being amusing and touching important bases. How Bobby manages to mature under pressure, and how he conquers being bullied makes for a fascinating plot. The summer turns out to be a special one for him—and for us—as “Measure of a Man” evolves into an entertaining and uplifting story with an assortment of revelations and developments and a perfect freeze-frame ending.
The supporting cast is excellent and colorful, and while we can especially appreciate Cooper’s performance, we are also reminded anew of what a charismatic performer Sutherland can be when he gets the right role, which is often and is certainly the case here. A Glass Half Full Media release. Reviewed May 11, 2018.