Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Charm, chubbiness, bullying and breath-holding: Jim Loach's MEASURE OF A MAN opens

A most interesting example of the coming-of-age film hits theaters this week, and it's one that's full of both the expected and the just-slightly-skewed. This combination proves a most winning one, and that, together with the lead performance by a young actor named Blake Cooper that is as real and on-the-mark as you could want, turns what could be mere feel-good fodder into something occasionally quite rich and strange.

MEASURE OF A MAN, directed by Jim Loach (shown below, and, yes, he's the son of Ken),
with a screenplay by David Scearce (from a novel by Robert Lipsyte) turns out to be a rather deft rendition of the education of a bullied fat boy -- via the various people around him -- regarding himself, his situation and the world he inhabits.

While much of the story does indeed have a certain been-there/done-that quality, the oddities involved in the details of both the supporting characters and the situations at hand combine to make the movie consistently interesting and pleasantly-if-strangely just a tad off-kilter.

Take the seemingly wealthy old man whose offer of summer employment for our hero Bobby (young Master Cooper, above, doing his exercise in breath-holding) comes with some strings apparently attached. As played with his usual flair and decorum by Donald Sutherland (below), this fellow has secrets of his own, which will be revealed in time, but lightly and properly with no trace of the heavy hand, by filmmakers Loach and Scearce.

Interesting, too, is the fact that within Bobby's immediate family -- father (Luke Wilson, below, center), mother (Judy Greer, below, left), and sister (Liana Liberato, shown at bottom, left), there are enough things going on that each of these characters could easily have been given a leading place in the story. Yet everything here is rightly supportive to the tale of Bobby and his own situation.

How that situation comes to the fore -- involving a long-time summer friend of Bobby, played with grace and wit by Danielle Rose Russell (below) -- and how it also involves everything from plastic surgery, some GLBT activity, and the usual conflict between the "townies" and the "summer people" in the resort area in which the family vacations yearly simply adds to the ironies and contradictions present.
The time frame here in that famous year of our country's Bi-Centennial, 1976, and this is wisely used for everything from nostalgia to an unusual (given our current times) GLBT situation. All of this comes together very nicely indeed, and with the strong cement provided by Cooper's very lived-in and real performance, by the time you will have reached the properly feel-good finale, I suspect you will also be able to manage this guilt-free.

While the movie will set no records nor win too many awards, it remains a smart, empathetic, twistily-told tale of the coming of age of a chubby, decent kid.

From Great Point Media and running a just-right 100 minutes, Measure of a Man opens this Friday, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center, Noho 7, and Playhouse 7; in New York City at the Village East Cinema; in Chicago at Facets Cinematheque; and here in South Florida at Cobb's Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens and the Living Room Theater, Boca Raton. It will play simultaneously at more than 25 other cities/theaters across the country, so check the film's Twitter link for further venues.

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