“Measure of a Man” is at least watchable

New coming-of-age drama "Measure of a Man" manages to generate some sweetness despite its often dullish performances and stereotypes.

It’s July 1976 and America is celebrating its bicentennial with red, white and blue parades, parties, and bombs bursting in air. Meanwhile for an overweight, 14-year-old boy from the city it might as well be background noise as he is forced to endure yet another summer at the lake with his family. Adapted from the 1977 novel One Fat Summer by American author Robert Lipsyte, Measure of a Man details how that boy undergoes a transformation into a young man whose experiences during that summer will affect him for the rest of his life.

With some sporadic voice-over reminiscent of The Wonder Years in its sentimentality, Measure of a Man introduces us to Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper, The Maze Runner) when his stressed father, Marty (Luke Wilson) drags his mother, Lenore (Judy Greer, Jurassic World) and sister, Michelle (Liana Liberato, The Best of Me) off to their annual summer retreat at Rumson Lake. There is palpable tension between his parents, which weighs heavily on Bobby, but not so much on Michelle who is more focused on a stereotypical heartthrob than on her family’s issues.

The relationship between the parents is underdeveloped and Wilson is barely on the screen. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Marty is relentlessly hard on Bobby who escapes through food. Bobby’s one shining beacon of light is Joanie Williams (Danielle Rose Russell, A Walk Among the Tombstones), a girl of similar age who he has come to regard as his best friend when they are at the lake. It is because of her that he rejects Marty’s demands of joining a camp and instead reaches out to Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland), a wealthy summer resident with a large estate.

Although he has never done landscape work before, Bobby is able to give a skeptical Dr. Kahn reason enough to hire him anyway. The work turns out to be more difficult than Bobby could have imagined, and the secretive Dr. Kahn has high expectations of him. His labor difficulties pall in comparison to the humiliation and bullying he receives from local Willie Rumson (Beau Knapp, Super 8), a Vietnam vet with a dark secret and a penchant for hating summer residents. How Bobby deals with the bullying has a huge impact on who he becomes as a man.

Directed by English filmmaker Jim Loach (Oranges and Sunshine), Measure of a Man takes a while to get some traction. Initially it’s too slow-paced and the characters are nothing we haven’t seen before. The acting is blasé and predictable. I kept expecting Sutherland to start talking about Simply Orange as his inflection was the same. The lone exception to this is Cooper’s performance as he has some moments that are tragic and uplifting.

Measure of a Man can be boring cinema at times, but it has enough sweetness to it to make it a watchable flick.

On a letter grade scale from “A” being excellent to “F” for failing, Measure of a Man receives a C.

Measure of a Man is rated PG-13.

Now showing through May 17 @
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