Review: Measure of a Man
Every year there is a handful of coming of age films that come out. The genre is getting a bit crowded, making it more and more necessary to stand out from the pack. Jim Loach's Measure of a Man is very familiar and formulaic and while it may not do much to distinguish itself, it does have some likable elements.
Based on Robert Lipsyte's novel One Fat Summer, the film adaptation moves the 1950's set story into the late 70's while retaining its noble body-positive message. The film centers on one summer with Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper) as he tries to survive bullying and his parents separating all while working for Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland).
Measure of a Man liberally borrows from other coming of age films. There is an adult Bobby providing voiceover a la Stand By Me and The Sandlot coupled with nostalgic settings and music. There is the parental fighting that reminded me of The Way, Way Back. The fact that comparisons come up quickly does not help the film make a lasting mark. The story beats also utilize tropes common to this genre. The bully who torments Bobby does so because of his own insecurities, a revelation that made this reviewer roll his eyes.
Despite these familiar elements, Cooper does prove to be a likable lead. It is refreshing to see someone who looks like a teenager and who deals with fat shaming regularly. However, the film routinely shifts the focus from this far less seen story to the side characters around Bobby and the lessons they have to teach him. Dr. Kahn, his employer, speaks only is Hallmark card type revelations and life lesson. His close friend, who leaves for the summer at the beginning of the film, returns after having a nose job to show Bobby that some people will do anything to change their physical appearance. These moments have a heavy hand and rarely feel as honest as Cooper's performance does.
Loach proves himself competent at recreating the time period and gives the film a great "summer-time" feel. One just wishes that he focused more on Bobby's story of coming to terms with his weight and how others are going to treat him at times. The bullying that is so central to the film is washed away with a trite revelation and robs the story of having a more impactful resolution that focuses on Bobby rather than a side character.
The film tries to cram in too many issues including sexual orientation, rape culture, cheating, and even gentrification when it should be focused on the central and most compelling topic, body-image. In the end, Measure of a Man feels muddled and generic. This is a missed opportunity at something original and needed in the coming of age genre.