Measure of a Man
By shifting events in Robert Lipsyte’s One Fat Summer from the 1950s to 1976, screenwriter David Scearce adds new layers of poignancy to the young adult novel’s end-of-an-era narrative. There are the economics of a single-income middle-class family being able to afford several months vacation in a modest lakeside cabin, a luxury that would soon be out of reach for mid-level white-collar workers like Marty Marks (Luke Wilson), even if they’re prudent with investments.
Scearce (A Single Man) primarily explores cultural shifts through the perception of Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper), an overweight fourteen-year-old trying to hide his body – and himself – during a revealing summer in the tube-top era. Everyone around him seems to glide easily through life, while he feels the effort of every step. Bobby ponders how to assert his individuality while searching for a trustworthy authority figure, a role filled by his demanding employer Dr. Kahn, played with deliciously prim rectitude by Donald Sutherland.
Director Jim Loach (Oranges and Sunshine) takes an egalitarian approach by making other changes – homemaker Lenore Marks (Judy Greer) attending law school, teenager Michelle Marks (Liana Liberato) testing sexual boundaries – into notable storylines, not just background for Bobby’s coming of age. Loach even turns a humane eye on Bobby’s bully, Willie Rumson (Beau Knapp), who resents that his family’s former property is now owned by “summer people.” Loach also relies too heavily on pop songs and voiceover narration for emotional substance, which is already there in the low-key, perceptive performances. The portentously titled Measure of a Man is at once an escapist fantasy and sensitive portrait of adolescent transformation.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on May 11, 2018 by Great Point Media
First published in The Village Voice, 2018.